Infomotions, Inc.Now It Can Be Told / Gibbs, Philip, 1877-1962



Author: Gibbs, Philip, 1877-1962
Title: Now It Can Be Told
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): trenches; war; guns
Contributor(s): Clark, Walter, 1846-1924 [Translator]
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Identifier: etext3317
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Title: Now It Can Be Told

Author: Philip Gibbs

Release Date: July, 2002  [Etext #3317]
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This Etext Prepared by Alan Earls <alanearls@mediaone.net>





Now It Can Be Told

by Philip Gibbs




CONTENTS


   PREFACE

  Part One  OBSERVERS AND COMMANDERS

  Part Two  THE SCHOOL OF COURAGE

Part Three  THE NATURE OF A BATTLE

 Part Four  A WINTER OF DISCONTENT

 Part Five  THE HEART OF A CITY

  Part Six  PSYCHOLOGY ON THE SOMME

Part Seven  THE FIELDS OF ARMAGEDDON

Part Eight  FOR WHAT MEN DIED




PREFACE


In this book I have written about some aspects of the war which, I
believe, the world must know and remember, not only as a memorial of
men's courage in tragic years, but as a warning of what will happen
again--surely--if a heritage of evil and of folly is not cut out of
the hearts of peoples. Here it is the reality of modern warfare not
only as it appears to British soldiers, of whom I can tell, but to
soldiers on all the fronts where conditions were the same.

What I have written here does not cancel, nor alter, nor deny anything
in my daily narratives of events on the western front as they are now
published in book form. They stand, I may claim sincerely and humbly,
as a truthful, accurate, and tragic record of the battles in France
and Belgium during the years of war, broadly pictured out as far as I
could see and know. My duty, then, was that of a chronicler, not
arguing why things should have happened so nor giving reasons why they
should not happen so, but describing faithfully many of the things I
saw, and narrating the facts as I found them, as far as the censorship
would allow. After early, hostile days it allowed nearly all but
criticism, protest, and of the figures of loss.

The purpose of this book is to get deeper into the truth of this war
and of all war--not by a more detailed narrative of events, but rather
as the truth was revealed to the minds of men, in many aspects, out of
their experience; and by a plain statement of realities, however
painful, to add something to the world's knowledge out of which men of
good-will may try to shape some new system of relationship between one
people and another, some new code of international morality,
preventing or at least postponing another massacre of youth like that
five years' sacrifice of boys of which I was a witness.




I


When Germany threw down her challenge to Russia and France, and
England knew that her Imperial power would be one of the prizes of
German victory (the common people did not think this, at first, but
saw only the outrage to Belgium, a brutal attack on civilization, and
a glorious adventure), some newspaper correspondents were sent out
from London to report the proceedings, and I was one of them.

We went in civilian clothes without military passports--the War Office
was not giving any--with bags of money which might be necessary for
the hire of motor-cars, hotel life, and the bribery of doorkeepers in
the antechambers of war, as some of us had gone to the Balkan War, and
others. The Old Guard of war correspondents besieged the War Office
for official recognition and were insulted day after day by junior
staff-officers who knew that "K" hated these men and thought the press
ought to be throttled in time of war; or they were beguiled into false
hopes by officials who hoped to go in charge of them and were told to
buy horses and sleeping-bags and be ready to start at a moment's
notice for the front.

The moment's notice was postponed for months . . . .

The younger ones did not wait for it. They took their chance of
"seeing something," without authority, and made wild, desperate
efforts to break through the barrier that had been put up against them
by French and British staffs in the zone of war. Many of them were
arrested, put into prison, let out, caught again in forbidden places,
rearrested, and expelled from France. That was after fantastic
adventures in which they saw what war meant in civilized countries
where vast populations were made fugitives of fear, where millions of
women and children and old people became wanderers along the roads in
a tide of human misery, with the red flame of war behind them and
following them, and where the first battalions of youth, so gay in
their approach to war, so confident of victory, so careless of the
dangers (which they did not know), came back maimed and mangled and
blinded and wrecked, in the backwash of retreat, which presently
became a spate through Belgium and the north of France, swamping over
many cities and thousands of villages and many fields. Those young
writing-men who had set out in a spirit of adventure went back to
Fleet Street with a queer look in their eyes, unable to write the
things they had seen, unable to tell them to people who had not seen
and could not understand. Because there was no code of words which
would convey the picture of that wild agony of peoples, that smashing
of all civilized laws, to men and women who still thought of war in
terms of heroic pageantry.

"Had a good time?" asked a colleague along the corridor, hardly
waiting for an answer.

"A good time!" . . . God! . . . Did people think it was amusing to be
an onlooker of world-tragedy? . . . One of them remembered a lady of
France with a small boy who had fled from Charleville, which was in
flames and smoke. She was weak with hunger, with dirty and bedraggled
skirts on her flight, and she had heard that her husband was in the
battle that was now being fought round their own town. She was brave--
pointed out the line of the German advance on the map--and it was in a
troop-train crowded with French soldiers--and then burst into wild
weeping, clasping the hand of an English writing-man so that her nails
dug into his flesh. I remember her still.

"Courage, maman! Courage, p'tite maman!" said the boy of eight.

Through Amiens at night had come a French army in retreat. There were
dead and wounded on their wagons. Cuirassiers stumbled as they led
their tired horses. Crowds of people with white faces, like ghosts in
the darkness, stared at their men retreating like this through their
city, and knew that the enemy was close behind.

"Nous sommes perdus!" whispered a woman, and gave a wailing cry.

People were fighting their way into railway trucks at every station
for hundreds of miles across northern France. Women were beseeching a
place for the sake of their babes. There was no food for them on
journeys of nineteen hours or more; they fainted with heat and hunger.
An old woman died, and her corpse blocked up the lavatory. At night
they slept on the pavements in cities invaded by fugitives.

At Furnes in Belgium, and at Dunkirk on the coast of France, there
were columns of ambulances bringing in an endless tide of wounded.
They were laid out stretcher by stretcher in station-yards, five
hundred at a time. Some of their faces were masks of clotted blood.
Some of their bodies were horribly torn. They breathed with a hard
snuffle. A foul smell came from them.

At Chartres they were swilling over the station hall with disinfecting
fluid after getting through with one day's wounded. The French doctor
in charge had received a telegram from the director of medical
services: "Make ready for forty thousand wounded." It was during the
first battle of the Marne.

"It is impossible!" said the French doctor. . . .

Four hundred thousand people were in flight from Antwerp, into which
big shells were falling, as English correspondents flattened
themselves against the walls and said, "God in heaven!" Two hundred
and fifty thousand people coming across the Scheldt in rowing-boats,
sailing-craft, rafts, invaded one village in Holland. They had no
food. Children were mad with fright. Young mothers had no milk in
their breasts. It was cold at night and there were only a few canal-
boats and fishermen's cottages, and in them were crowds of fugitives.
The odor of human filth exuded from them, as I smell it now, and
sicken in remembrance . . . .

Then Dixmude was in flames, and Pervyse, and many other towns from the
Belgian coast to Switzerland. In Dixmude young boys of France--
fusiliers marins--lay dead about the Grande Place. In the Town Hall,
falling to bits under shell-fire, a colonel stood dazed and waiting
for death amid the dead bodies of his men--one so young, so handsome,
lying there on his back, with a waxen face, staring steadily at the
sky through the broken roof. . . .

At Nieuport-les-Bains one dead soldier lay at the end of the
esplanade, and a little group of living were huddled under the wall of
a red-brick villa, watching other villas falling like card houses in a
town that had been built for love and pretty women and the lucky
people of the world. British monitors lying close into shore were
answering the German bombardment, firing over Nieuport to the dunes by
Ostend. From one monitor came a group of figures with white masks of
cotton-wool tipped with wet blood. British seamen, and all blind, with
the dead body of an officer tied up in a sack . . . .

"O Jesu! . . . O maman! . . . O ma pauvre p'tite femme! . . . O Jesu!
O Jesu!"

From thousands of French soldiers lying wounded or parched in the
burning sun before the battle of the Marne these cries went up to the
blue sky of France in August of '14. They were the cries of youth's
agony in war. Afterward I went across the fields where they fought and
saw their bodies and their graves, and the proof of the victory that
saved France and us. The German dead had been gathered into heaps like
autumn leaves. They were soaked in petrol and oily smoke was rising
from them . . . .

That was after the retreat from Mons, and the French retreat along all
their line, and the thrust that drew very close to Paris, when I saw
our little Regular Army, the "Old Contemptibles," on their way back,
with the German hordes following close. Sir John French had his
headquarters for the night in Creil. English, Irish, Scottish
soldiers, stragglers from units still keeping some kind of order, were
coming in, bronzed, dusty, parched with thirst, with light wounds tied
round with rags, with blistered feet. French soldiers, bearded, dirty,
thirsty as dogs, crowded the station platforms. They, too, had been
retreating and retreating. A company of sappers had blown up forty
bridges of France. Under a gas-lamp in a foul-smelling urinal I copied
out the diary of their officer. Some spiritual faith upheld these men.
"Wait," they said. "In a few days we shall give them a hard knock.
They will never get Paris. Jamais de la vie!" . . .

In Beauvais there was hardly a living soul when three English
correspondents went there, after escape from Amiens, now in German
hands. A tall cuirassier stood by some bags of gunpowder, ready to
blow up the bridge. The streets were strewn with barbed wire and
broken bottles . . . In Paris there was a great fear and solitude,
except where grief-stricken crowds stormed the railway stations for
escape and where French and British soldiers--stragglers all--drank
together, and sang above their broken glasses, and cursed the war and
the Germans.

And down all the roads from the front, on every day in every month of
that first six months of war--as afterward--came back the tide of
wounded; wounded everywhere, maimed men at every junction; hospitals
crowded with blind and dying and moaning men . . . .

"Had an interesting time?" asked a man I wanted to kill because of his
smug ignorance, his damnable indifference, his impregnable stupidity
of cheerfulness in this world of agony. I had changed the clothes
which were smeared with blood of French and Belgian soldiers whom I
had helped, in a week of strange adventure, to carry to the surgeons.
As an onlooker of war I hated the people who had not seen, because
they could not understand. All these things I had seen in the first
nine months I put down in a book called The Soul of the War, so that
some might know; but it was only a few who understood. . . .




II


In 1915 the War Office at last moved in the matter of war
correspondents. Lord Kitchener, prejudiced against them, was being
broken down a little by the pressure of public opinion (mentioned from
time to time by members of the government), which demanded more news
of their men in the field than was given by bald communiqu&eacute;s
from General Headquarters and by an "eye-witness" who, as one paper
had the audacity to say, wrote nothing but "eye-wash." Even the
enormous, impregnable stupidity of our High Command on all matters of
psychology was penetrated by a vague notion that a few "writing
fellows" might be sent out with permission to follow the armies in the
field, under the strictest censorship, in order to silence the popular
clamor for more news. Dimly and nervously they apprehended that in
order to stimulate the recruiting of the New Army now being called to
the colors by vulgar appeals to sentiment and passion, it might be
well to "write up" the glorious side of war as it could be seen at the
base and in the organization of transport, without, of course, any
allusion to dead or dying men, to the ghastly failures of
distinguished generals, or to the filth and horror of the
battlefields. They could not understand, nor did they ever understand
(these soldiers of the old school) that a nation which was sending all
its sons to the field of honor desired with a deep and poignant
craving to know how those boys of theirs were living and how they were
dying, and what suffering was theirs, and what chances they had
against their enemy, and how it was going with the war which was
absorbing all the energy and wealth of the people at home.

"Why don't they trust their leaders?" asked the army chiefs. "Why
don't they leave it to us?"

"We do trust you--with some misgivings," thought the people, "and we
do leave it to you--though you seem to be making a mess of things--but
we want to know what we have a right to know, and that is the life and
progress of this war in which our men are engaged. We want to know
more about their heroism, so that it shall be remembered by their
people and known by the world; about their agony, so that we may share
it in our hearts; and about the way of their death, so that our grief
may be softened by the thought of their courage. We will not stand for
this anonymous war; and you are wasting time by keeping it secret,
because the imagination of those who have not joined cannot be fired
by cold lines which say, 'There is nothing to report on the western
front.'"

In March of 1915 I went out with the first body of accredited war
correspondents, and we saw some of the bad places where our men lived
and died, and the traffic to the lines, and the mechanism of war in
fixed positions as were then established after the battle of the Marne
and the first battle of Ypres. Even then it was only an experimental
visit. It was not until June of that year, after an adventure on the
French front in the Champagne, that I received full credentials as a
war correspondent with the British armies on the western front, and
joined four other men who had been selected for this service, and
began that long innings as an authorized onlooker of war which ended,
after long and dreadful years, with the Army of Occupation beyond the
Rhine.




III


In the very early days we lived in a small old house, called by
courtesy a chateau, in the village of Tatinghem, near General
Headquarters at St.-Omer. (Afterward we shifted our quarters from time
to time, according to the drift of battle and our convenience.) It was
very peaceful there amid fields of standing corn, where peasant women
worked while their men were fighting, but in the motor-cars supplied
us by the army (with military drivers, all complete) it was a quick
ride over Cassel Hill to the edge of the Ypres salient and the
farthest point where any car could go without being seen by a watchful
enemy and blown to bits at a signal to the guns. Then we walked, up
sinister roads, or along communication trenches, to the fire-step in
the front line, or into places like "Plug Street" wood and Kemmel
village, and the ruins of Vermelles, and the lines by Neuve Chapelle--
the training-schools of British armies--where always birds of death
were on the wing, screaming with high and rising notes before coming
to earth with the cough that killed. . . After hours in those hiding-
places where boys of the New Army were learning the lessons of war in
dugouts and ditches under the range of German guns, back again to the
little white chateau at Tatinghem, with a sweet scent of flowers from
the fields, and nightingales singing in the woods and a bell tinkling
for Benediction in the old church tower beyond our gate.

"To-morrow," said the colonel--our first chief--before driving in for
a late visit to G. H. Q., "we will go to Armentieres and see how the
'Kitchener' boys are shaping in the line up there. It ought to be
interesting."

The colonel was profoundly interested in the technic of war, in its
organization of supplies and transport, and methods of command. He was
a Regular of the Indian Army, a soldier by blood and caste and
training, and the noblest type of the old school of Imperial officer,
with obedience to command as a religious instinct; of stainless honor,
I think, in small things as well as great, with a deep love of
England, and a belief and pride in her Imperial destiny to govern many
peoples for their own good, and with the narrowness of such belief.
His imagination was limited to the boundaries of his professional
interests, though now and then his humanity made him realize in a
perplexed way greater issues at stake in this war than the challenge
to British Empiry.

One day, when we were walking through the desolation of a battlefield,
with the smell of human corruption about us, and men crouched in
chalky ditches below their breastworks of sand-bags, he turned to a
colleague of mine and said in a startled way:

"This must never happen again! Never!"

It will never happen again for him, as for many others. He was too
tall for the trenches, and one day a German sniper saw the red glint
of his hat-band--he was on the staff of the 11th Corps--and thought,
"a gay bird"! So he fell; and in our mess, when the news came, we were
sad at his going, and one of our orderlies, who had been his body-
servant, wept as he waited on us.

Late at night the colonel--that first chief of ours--used to come home
from G. H. Q., as all men called General Headquarters with a sense of
mystery, power, and inexplicable industry accomplishing--what?--in
those initials. He came back with a cheery shout of, "Fine weather to-
morrow!" or, "A starry night and all's well!" looking fine and
soldierly as the glare of his headlights shone on his tall figure with
red tabs and a colored armlet. But that cheeriness covered secret
worries. Night after night, in those early weeks of our service, he
sat in his little office, talking earnestly with the press officers--
our censors. They seemed to be arguing, debating, protesting, about
secret influences and hostilities surrounding us and them. I could
only guess what it was all about. It all seemed to make no difference
to me when I sat down before pieces of blank paper to get down some
kind of picture, some kind of impression, of a long day in place where
I had been scared awhile because death was on the prowl in a noisy way
and I had seen it pounce on human bodies. I knew that tomorrow I was
going to another little peep-show of war, where I should hear the same
noises. That talk downstairs, that worry about some mystery at G. H.
Q. would make no difference to the life or death of men, nor get rid
of that coldness which came to me when men were being killed nearby.
Why all that argument?

It seemed that G. H. Q.--mysterious people in a mysterious place--were
drawing up rules for war correspondence and censorship; altering rules
made the day before, formulating new rules for to-morrow, establishing
precedents, writing minutes, initialing reports with, "Passed to you,"
or, "I agree," written on the margin. The censors who lived with us
and traveled with us and were our friends, and read what we wrote
before the ink was dry, had to examine our screeds with microscopic
eyes and with infinite remembrance of the thousand and one rules. Was
it safe to mention the weather? Would that give any information to the
enemy? Was it permissible to describe the smell of chloride-of-lime in
the trenches, or would that discourage recruiting? That description of
the traffic on the roads of war, with transport wagons, gun-limbers,
lorries, mules--how did that conflict with Rule No. 17a (or whatever
it was) prohibiting all mention of movements of troops?

One of the censors working late at night, with lines of worry on his
forehead and little puckers about his eyes, turned to me with a queer
laugh, one night in the early days. He was an Indian Civil Servant,
and therefore, by every rule, a gentleman and a charming fellow.

"You don't know what I am risking in passing your despatch! It's too
good to spoil, but G. H. Q. will probably find that it conveys
accurate information to the enemy about the offensive in 1925. I shall
get the sack--and oh, the difference to me!"

It appeared that G. H. Q. was nervous of us. They suggested that our
private letters should be tested for writing in invisible ink between
the lines. They were afraid that, either deliberately for some
journalistic advantage, or in sheer ignorance as "outsiders," we might
hand information to the enemy about important secrets. Belonging to
the old caste of army mind, they believed that war was the special
prerogative of professional soldiers, of which politicians and people
should have no knowledge. Therefore as civilians in khaki we were
hardly better than spies.

The Indian Civil Servant went for a stroll with me in the moonlight,
after a day up the line, where young men were living and dying in
dirty ditches. I could see that he was worried, even angry.

"Those people!" he said.

"What people?"

"G. H. Q."

"Oh, Lord!" I groaned. "Again?" and looked across the fields of corn
to the dark outline of a convent on the hill where young officers were
learning the gentle art of killing by machine-guns before their turn
came to be killed or crippled. I thought of a dead boy I had seen that
day--or yesterday was it?--kneeling on the fire-step of a trench, with
his forehead against the parapet as though in prayer. . . How sweet
was the scent of the clover to-night! And how that star twinkled above
the low flashes of gun-fire away there in the salient.

"They want us to waste your time," said the officer. "Those were the
very words used by the Chief of Intelligence--in writing which I have
kept. 'Waste their time!' . . . I'll be damned if I consider my work
is to waste the time of war correspondents. Don't those good fools see
that this is not a professional adventure, like their other little
wars; that the whole nation is in it, and that the nation demands to
know what its men are doing? They have a right to know."




IV


Just at first--though not for long--there was a touch of hostility
against us among divisional and brigade staffs, of the Regulars, but
not of the New Army. They, too, suspected our motive in going to their
quarters, wondered why we should come "spying around," trying to "see
things." I was faintly conscious of this one day in those very early
times, when with the officer who had been a ruler in India I went to a
brigade headquarters of the 1st Division near Vermelles. It was not
easy nor pleasant to get there, though it was a summer day with fleecy
clouds in a blue sky. There was a long straight road leading to the
village of Vermelles, with a crisscross of communication trenches on
one side, and, on the other, fields where corn and grass grew rankly
in abandoned fields. Some lean sheep were browsing there as though
this were Arcady in days of peace. It was not. The red ruins of
Vermelles, a mile or so away, were sharply defined, as through
stereoscopic lenses, in the quiver of sunlight, and had the sinister
look of a death-haunted place. It was where the French had fought
their way through gardens, walls, and houses in murderous battle,
before leaving it for British troops to hold. Across it now came the
whine of shells, and I saw that shrapnel bullets were kicking up the
dust of a thousand yards down the straight road, following a small
body of brown men whose tramp of feet raised another cloud of dust,
like smoke. They were the only representatives of human life--besides
ourselves--in this loneliness, though many men must have been in
hiding somewhere. Then heavy "crumps" burst in the fields where the
sheep were browsing, across the way we had to go to the brigade
headquarters.

"How about it?" asked the captain with me. "I don't like crossing that
field, in spite of the buttercups and daisies and the little frisky
lambs."

"I hate the idea of it," I said.

Then we looked down the road at the little body of brown men. They
were nearer now, and I could see the face of the officer leading
them--a boy subaltern, rather pale though the sun was hot. He halted
and saluted my companion.

"The enemy seems to have sighted our dust, sir. His shrapnel is
following up pretty closely. Would you advise me to put my men under
cover, or carry on?"

The captain hesitated. This was rather outside his sphere of
influence. But the boyishness of the other officer asked for help.

"My advice is to put your men into that ditch and keep them there
until the strafe is over." Some shrapnel bullets whipped the sun-baked
road as he spoke.

"Very good, sir."

The men sat in the ditch, with their packs against the bank, and wiped
the sweat off their faces. They looked tired and dispirited, but not
alarmed.

In the fields behind them--our way--the 4.2's (four--point-twos) were
busy plugging holes in the grass and flowers, rather deep holes, from
which white smoke-clouds rose after explosive noises.

"With a little careful strategy we might get through," said the
captain. "There's a general waiting for us, and I have noticed that
generals are impatient fellows. Let's try our luck."

We walked across the wild flowers, past the sheep, who only raised
their heads in meek surprise when shells came with a shrill,
intensifying snarl and burrowed up the earth about them. I noticed how
loudly and sweetly the larks were singing up in the blue. Several
horses lay dead, newly killed, with blood oozing about them, and their
entrails smoking. We made a half-loop around them and then struck
straight for the chateau which was the brigade headquarters. Neither
of us spoke now. We were thoughtful, calculating the chance of getting
to that red-brick house between the shells. It was just dependent on
the coincidence of time and place.

Three men jumped up from a ditch below a brown wall round the chateau
garden and ran hard for the gateway. A shell had pitched quite close
to them. One man laughed as though at a grotesque joke, and fell as he
reached the courtyard. Smoke was rising from the outhouses, and there
was a clatter of tiles and timbers, after an explosive crash.

"It rather looks," said my companion, "as though the Germans knew
there is a party on in that charming house."

It was as good to go on as to go back, and it was never good to go
back before reaching one's objective. That was bad for the discipline
of the courage that is just beyond fear.

Two gunners were killed in the back yard of the chateau, and as we
went in through the gateway a sergeant made a quick jump for a barn as
a shell burst somewhere close. As visitors we hesitated between two
ways into the chateau, and chose the easier; and it was then that I
became dimly aware of hostility against me on the part of a number of
officers in the front hall. The brigade staff was there, grouped under
the banisters. I wondered why, and guessed (rightly, as I found) that
the center of the house might have a better chance of escape than the
rooms on either side, in case of direct hits from those things falling
outside.

It was the brigade major who asked our business. He was a tall,
handsome young man of something over thirty, with the arrogance of a
Christ Church blood.

"Oh, he has come out to see something in Vermelles? A pleasant place
for sightseeing! Meanwhile the Hun is ranging on this house, so he may
see more than he wants."

He turned on his heel and rejoined his group. They all stared in my
direction as though at a curious animal. A very young gentleman--the
general's A. D. C.--made a funny remark at my expense and the others
laughed. Then they ignored me, and I was glad, and made a little study
in the psychology of men awaiting a close call of death. I was
perfectly conscious myself that in a moment or two some of us, perhaps
all of us, might be in a pulp of mangled flesh beneath the ruins of a
red-brick villa--the shells were crashing among the outhouses and in
the courtyard, and the enemy was making good shooting--and the idea
did not please me at all. At the back of my brain was Fear, and there
was a cold sweat in the palms of my hands; but I was master of myself,
and I remember having a sense of satisfaction because I had answered
the brigade major in a level voice, with a touch of his own arrogance.
I saw that these officers were afraid; that they, too, had Fear at the
back of the brain, and that their conversation and laughter were the
camouflage of the soul. The face of the young A. D. C. was flushed and
he laughed too much at his own jokes, and his laughter was just a tone
too shrill. An officer came into the hall, carrying two Mills bombs--
new toys in those days--and the others fell back from him, and one
said:

"For Christ's sake don't bring them here--in the middle of a
bombardment!"

"Where's the general?" asked the newcomer.

"Down in the cellar with the other brigadier. They don't ask us down
to tea, I notice."

Those last words caused all the officers to laugh--almost excessively.
But their laughter ended sharply, and they listened intently as there
was a heavy crash outside.

Another officer came up the steps and made a rapid entry into the
hall.

"I understand there is to be a conference of battalion commanders," he
said, with a queer catch in his breath. "In view of this--er--
bombardment, I had better come in later, perhaps?"

"You had better wait," said the brigade major, rather grimly.

"Oh, certainly."

A sergeant-major was pacing up and down the passage by the back door.
He was calm and stolid. I liked the look of him and found something
comforting in his presence, so that I went to have a few words with
him.

"How long is this likely to last, Sergeant-major"

"There's no saying, sir. They may be searching for the chateau to pass
the time, so to speak, or they may go on till they get it. I'm sorry
they caught those gunners. Nice lads, both of them."

He did not seem to be worrying about his own chance.

Then suddenly there was silence. The German guns had switched off. I
heard the larks singing through the open doorway, and all the little
sounds of a summer day. The group of officers in the hall started
chatting more quietly. There was no more need of finding jokes and
laughter. They had been reprieved, and could be serious.

"We'd better get forward to Vermelles," said my companion.

As we walked away from the chateau, the brigade major passed us on his
horse. He leaned over his saddle toward me and said, "Good day to you,
and I hope you'll like Vermelles."

The words were civil, but there was an underlying meaning in them.

"I hope to do so, sir."

We walked down the long straight road toward the ruins of Vermelles
with a young soldier-guide who on the outskirts of the village
remarked in a casual way:

"No one is allowed along this road in daylight, as a rule. It's under
hobservation of the henemy."

"Then why the devil did you come this way?" asked my companion.

"I thought you might prefer the short cut, sir."

We explored the ruins of Vermelles, where many young Frenchmen had
fallen in fighting through the walls and gardens. One could see the
track of their strife, in trampled bushes and broken walls. Bits of
red rag--the red pantaloons of the first French soldiers--were still
fastened to brambles and barbed wire. Broken rifles, cartouches,
water-bottles, torn letters, twisted bayonets, and German stick-bombs
littered the ditches which had been dug as trenches across streets of
burned-out houses.




V


A young gunner officer whom we met was very civil, and stopped in
front of the chateau of Vermelles, a big red villa with the outer
walls still standing, and told us the story of its capture.

"It was a wild scrap. I was told all about it by a French sergeant who
was in it. They were under the cover of that wall over there, about a
hundred yards away, and fixing up a charge of high explosives to knock
a breach in the wall. The chateau was a machine-gun fortress, with the
Germans on the top floor, the ground floor, and in the basement,
protected by sand-bags, through which they fired. A German officer
made a bad mistake. He opened the front door and came out with some of
his machine-gunners from the ground floor to hold a trench across the
square in front of the house. Instantly a French lieutenant called to
his men. They climbed over the wall and made a dash for the chateau,
bayoneting the Germans who tried to stop them. Then they swarmed into
the chateau--a platoon of them with the lieutenant. They were in the
drawing-room, quite an elegant place, you know, with the usual gilt
furniture and long mirrors. In one corner was a pedestal, with a
statue of Venus standing on it. Rather charming, I expect. A few
Germans were killed in the room, easily. But upstairs there was a mob
who fired down through the ceiling when they found what had happened.
The French soldiers prodded the ceiling with their bayonets, and all
the plaster broke, falling on them. A German, fat and heavy, fell
half-way through the rafters, and a bayonet was poked into him as he
stuck there. The whole ceiling gave way, and the Germans upstairs came
downstairs, in a heap. They fought like wolves--wild beasts--with fear
and rage. French and Germans clawed at one another's throats, grabbed
hold of noses, rolled over each other. The French sergeant told me he
had his teeth into a German's neck. The man was all over him, pinning
his arms, trying to choke him. It was the French lieutenant who did
most damage. He fired his last shot and smashed a German's face with
his empty revolver. Then he caught hold of the marble Venus by the
legs and swung it above his head, in the old Berserker style, and laid
out Germans like ninepins. . . The fellows in the basement
surrendered."




VI


The chateau of Vermelles, where that had happened, was an empty ruin,
and there was no sign of the gilt furniture, or the long mirrors, or
the marble Venus when I looked through the charred window-frames upon
piles of bricks and timber churned up by shell-fire. The gunner
officer took us to the cemetery, to meet some friends of his who had
their battery nearby. We stumbled over broken walls and pushed through
undergrowth to get to the graveyard, where some broken crosses and
wire frames with immortelles remained as relics of that garden where
the people of Vermelles had laid their dead to rest. New dead had
followed old dead. I stumbled over something soft, like a ball of
clay, and saw that it was the head of a faceless man, in a battered
kepi. From a ditch close by came a sickly stench of half-buried flesh.

"The whole place is a pest-house," said the gunner.

Another voice spoke from some hiding-place.

"Salvo!"

The earth shook and there was a flash of red flame, and a shock of
noise which hurt one's ear-drums.

"That's my battery," said the gunner officer. "It's the very devil
when one doesn't expect it."

I was introduced to the gentleman who had said "Salvo!" He was the
gunner-major, and a charming fellow, recently from civil life. All the
battery was made up of New Army men learning their job, and learning
it very well, I should say. There was no arrogance about them.

"It's sporting of you to come along to a spot like this," said one of
them. "I wouldn't unless I had to. Of course you'll take tea in our
mess?"

I was glad to take tea--in a little house at the end of the ruined
high-street of Vermelles which had by some miracle escaped
destruction, though a shell had pierced through the brick wall of the
parlor and had failed to burst. It was there still, firmly wedged,
like a huge nail. The tea was good, in tin mugs. Better still was the
company of the gunner officers. They told me how often they were
"scared stiff." They had been very frightened an hour before I came,
when the German gunners had ranged up and down the street, smashing up
ruined houses into greater ruin.

"They're so methodical!" said one of the officers.

"Wonderful shooting!" said another.

"I will say they're topping gunners," said the major. "But we're
learning; my men are very keen. Put in a good word for the new
artillery. It would buck them up no end."

We went back before sunset, down the long straight road, and past the
chateau which we had visited in the afternoon. It looked very peaceful
there among the trees.

It is curious that I remember the details of that day so vividly, as
though they happened yesterday. On hundreds of other days I had
adventures like that, which I remember more dimly.

"That brigade major was a trifle haughty, don't you think?" said my
companion. "And the others didn't seem very friendly. Not like those
gunner boys."

"We called at an awkward time. They were rather fussed."

"One expects good manners. Especially from Regulars who pride
themselves on being different in that way from the New Army."

"It's the difference between the professional and the amateur soldier.
The Regular crowd think the war belongs to them. . . But I liked their
pluck. They're arrogant to Death himself when he comes knocking at the
door."




VII


It was not long before we broke down the prejudice against us among
the fighting units. The new armies were our friends from the first,
and liked us to visit them in their trenches and their dugouts, their
camps and their billets. Every young officer was keen to show us his
particular "peep-show" or to tell us his latest "stunt." We made many
friends among them, and it was our grief that as the war went on so
many of them disappeared from their battalions, and old faces were
replaced by new faces, and those again by others when they had become
familiar. Again and again, after battle, twenty-two officers in a
battalion mess were reduced to two or three, and the gaps were filled
up from the reserve depots. I was afraid to ask, "Where is So-and-so?"
because I knew that the best answer would be, "A Blighty wound," and
the worst was more likely.

It was the duration of all the drama of death that seared one's soul
as an onlooker; the frightful sum of sacrifice that we were recording
day by day. There were times when it became intolerable and agonizing,
and when I at least desired peace-at-almost-any-price, peace by
negotiation, by compromise, that the river of blood might cease to
flow. The men looked so splendid as they marched up to the lines,
singing, whistling, with an easy swing. They looked so different when
thousands came down again, to field dressing-stations--the walking
wounded and the stretcher cases, the blind and the gassed--as we saw
them on the mornings of battle, month after month, year after year.

Our work as chroniclers of their acts was not altogether "soft,"
though we did not go "over the top" or live in the dirty ditches with
them. We had to travel prodigiously to cover the ground between one
division and another along a hundred miles of front, with long walks
often at the journey's end and a wet way back. Sometimes we were
soaked to the skin on the journey home. Often we were so cold and
numbed in those long wild drives up desolate roads that our limbs lost
consciousness and the wind cut into us like knives. We were working
against time, always against time, and another tire-burst would mean
that no despatch could be written of a great battle on the British
front, or only a short record written in the wildest haste when there
was so much to tell, so much to describe, such unforgetable pictures
in one's brain of another day's impressions in the fields and on the
roads.

There were five English correspondents and, two years later, two
Americans. On mornings of big battle we divided up the line of front
and drew lots for the particular section which each man would cover.
Then before the dawn, or in the murk of winter mornings, or the first
glimmer of a summer day, our cars would pull out and we would go off
separately to the part of the line allotted to us by the number drawn,
to see the preliminary bombardment, to walk over newly captured
ground, to get into the backwash of prisoners and walking wounded,
amid batteries firing a new barrage, guns moving forward on days of
good advance, artillery transport bringing up new stores of
ammunition, troops in support marching to repel a counter-attack or
follow through the new objectives, ambulances threading their way back
through the traffic, with loads of prostrate men, mules, gunhorses,
lorries churning up the mud in Flanders.

So we gained a personal view of all this activity of strife, and from
many men in its whirlpool details of their own adventure and of
general progress or disaster on one sector of the battle-front. Then
in divisional headquarters we saw the reports of the battle as they
came in by telephone, or aircraft, or pigeon-post, from half-hour to
half-hour, or ten minutes by ten minutes. Three divisions widely
separated provided all the work one war correspondent could do on one
day of action, and later news on a broader scale, could be obtained
from corps headquarters farther back. Tired, hungry, nerve-racked,
splashed to the eyes in mud, or covered in a mask of dust, we started
for the journey back to our own quarters, which we shifted from time
to time in order to get as near as we could to the latest battle-front
without getting beyond reach of the telegraph instruments--by relays
of despatch-riders--at "Signals," G. H. Q., which remained immovably
fixed in the rear.

There was a rendezvous in one of our rooms, and each man outlined the
historical narrative of the day upon the front he had covered,
reserving for himself his own adventures, impressions, and emotions.

Time slipped away, and time was short, while the despatch-riders
waited for our unwritten despatches, and censors who had been our
fellow-travelers washed themselves cleaner and kept an eye on the
clock.

Time was short while the world waited for our tales of tragedy or
victory . . . and tempers were frayed, and nerves on edge, among five
men who hated one another, sometimes, with a murderous hatred (though,
otherwise, good comrades) and desired one another's death by slow
torture or poison-gas when they fumbled over notes, written in a
jolting car, or on a battlefield walk, and went into past history in
order to explain present happenings, or became tangled in the numbers
of battalions and divisions.

Percival Phillips turned pink-and-white under the hideous strain of
nervous control, with an hour and a half for two columns in The
Morning Post. A little pulse throbbed in his forehead. His lips were
tightly pressed. His oaths and his anguish were in his soul, but
unuttered. Beach Thomas, the most amiable of men, the Peter Pan who
went a bird-nesting on battlefields, a lover of beauty and games and
old poems and Greek and Latin tags, and all joy in life--what had he
to do with war?--looked bored with an infinite boredom, irritable with
a scornful impatience of unnecessary detail, gazed through his gold-
rimmed spectacles with an air of extreme detachment (when Percy
Robinson rebuilt the map with dabs and dashes on a blank sheet of
paper), and said, "I've got more than I can write, and The Daily Mail
goes early to press."

"Thanks very much. . . It's very kind of you."

We gathered up our note-books and were punctiliously polite.
(Afterward we were the best of friends.) Thomas was first out of the
room, with short, quick little steps in spite of his long legs. His
door banged. Phillips was first at his typewriter, working it like a
machine-gun, in short, furious spasms of word-fire. I sat down to my
typewriter--a new instrument of torture to me--and coaxed its evil
genius with conciliatory prayers.

"For dear God's sake," I said, "don't go twisting that blasted ribbon
of yours to-day. I must write this despatch, and I've just an hour
when I want five."

Sometimes that Corona was a mechanism of singular sweetness, and I
blessed it with a benediction. But often there was a devil in it
which mocked at me. After the first sentence or two it twisted the
ribbon; at the end of twenty sentences the ribbon was like an angry
snake, writhing and coiling hideously.

I shouted for Mackenzie, the American, a master of these things.

He came in and saw my blanched face, my sweat of anguish, my crise
de nerfs. I could see by his eyes that he understood my stress and
had pity on me.

"That's all right," he said. "A little patience--"

By a touch or two he exorcised the devil, laughed, and said: "Go easy.
You've just about reached breaking--point."

I wrote, as we all wrote, fast and furiously, to get down something
of enormous history, word-pictures of things seen, heroic anecdotes,
the underlying meaning of this new slaughter. There was never time
to think out a sentence or a phrase, to touch up a clumsy paragraph,
to go back on a false start, to annihilate a vulgar adjective, to
put a touch of style into one's narrative. One wrote instinctively,
blindly, feverishly. . . And downstairs were the censors, sending up
messages by orderlies to say "half-time," or "ten minutes more," and
cutting out sometimes the things one wanted most to say, modifying a
direct statement of fact into a vague surmise, taking away the honor
due to the heroic men who had fought and died to-day. . . Who would
be a war correspondent, or a censor?

So it happened day by day, for five months at a stretch, when big
battles were in progress. It was not an easy life. There were times
when I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I could hardly
rouse myself to a new day's effort. There were times when I was faint
and sick and weak; and my colleagues were like me. But we struggled on
to tell the daily history of the war and the public cursed us because
we did not tell more, or sneered at us because they thought we were
"spoon-fed" by G. H. Q.--who never gave us any news and who were far
from our way of life, except when they thwarted us, by petty
restrictions and foolish rules.




VIII


The Commander-in-Chief--Sir John French--received us when we were
first attached to the British armies in the field--a lifetime ago, as
it seems to me now. It was a formal ceremony in the chateau near
St.-Omer, which he used as his own headquarters, with his A. D. C.'s
in attendance, though the main general headquarters were in the town.
Our first colonel gathered us like a shepherd with his flock, counting
us twice over before we passed in. A tall, dark young man, whom I knew
afterward to be Sir Philip Sassoon, received us and chatted pleasantly
in a French salon with folding-doors which shut off an inner room.
There were a few portraits of ladies and gentlemen of France in the
days before the Revolution, like those belonging to that old
aristocracy which still existed, in poverty and pride, in other
chateaus in this French Flanders. There was a bouquet of flowers on
the table, giving a sweet scent to the room, and sunlight streamed
through the shutters. . . I thought for a moment of the men living in
ditches in the salient, under harassing fire by day and night. Their
actions and their encounters with death were being arranged, without
their knowledge, in this sunny little chateau. . . .

The folding-doors opened and Sir John French came in. He wore top-
boots and spurs, and after saying, "Good day, gentlemen," stood with
his legs apart, a stocky, soldierly figure, with a square head and
heavy jaw. I wondered whether there were any light of genius in him--
any inspiration, any force which would break the awful strength of the
enemy against us, any cunning in modern warfare.

He coughed a little, and made us a speech. I forget his words, but
remember the gist of them. He was pleased to welcome us within his
army, and trusted to our honor and loyalty. He made an allusion to the
power of the press, and promised us facilities for seeing and writing,
within the bounds of censorship. I noticed that he pronounced St.-
Omer, St.-Omar, as though Omar Khayyam had been canonized. He said,
"Good day, gentlemen," again, and coughed huskily again to clear his
throat, and then went back through the folding-doors.

I saw him later, during the battle of Loos, after its ghastly failure.
He was riding a white horse in the villages of Heuchin and Houdain,
through which lightly wounded Scots of the 1st and 15th Divisions were
making their way back. He leaned over his saddle, questioning the men
and thanking them for their gallantry. I thought he looked grayer and
older than when he had addressed us.

"Who mun that old geezer be, Jock?" asked a Highlander when he had
passed.

"I dinna ken," said the other Scot. "An' I dinna care."

"It's the Commander-in-Chief," I said. "Sir John French."

"Eh?" said the younger man, of the 8th Gordons. He did not seem
thrilled by the knowledge I had given him, but turned his head and
stared after the figure on the white horse. Then he said: "Well, he's
made a mess o' the battle. We could've held Hill 70 against all the
di'els o' hell if there had bin supports behind us."

"Ay," said his comrade, "an' there's few o' the laddies'll come back
fra Cite St.-Auguste."




IX


It was another commander-in-chief who received us some months after
the battle of Loos, in a chateau near Montreuil, to which G. H. Q. had
then removed. Our only knowledge of Sir Douglas Haig before that day
was of a hostile influence against us in the First Army, which he
commanded. He had drawn a line through his area beyond which we might
not pass. He did not desire our presence among his troops nor in his
neighborhood. That line had been broken by the protests of our
commandant, and now as Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig had
realized dimly that he might be helped by our services.

It was in another French salon that we waited for the man who
controlled the British armies in the field--those armies which we now
knew in some intimacy, whom we had seen in the front-line trenches and
rest-camps and billets, hearing their point of view, knowing their
suffering and their patience, and their impatience--and their deadly
hatred of G. H. Q.

He was very handsome as he sat behind a Louis XIV table, with General
Charteris--his Chief of Intelligence, who was our chief, too--behind
him at one side, for prompting and advice. He received us with fine
courtesy and said:

"Pray be seated, gentlemen."

There had been many troubles over censorship, of which he knew but
vaguely through General Charteris, who looked upon us as his special
"cross." We had fought hard for liberty in mentioning units, to give
the honor to the troops, and for other concessions which would free
our pens.

The Commander-in-Chief was sympathetic, but his sympathy was expressed
in words which revealed a complete misunderstanding of our purpose and
of our work, and was indeed no less than an insult, unconscious but
very hurtful.

"I think I understand fairly well what you gentlemen want," he said.
"You want to get hold of little stories of heroism, and so forth, and
to write them up in a bright way to make good reading for Mary Ann in
the kitchen, and the Man in the Street." The quiet passion with which
those words were resented by us, the quick repudiation of this slur
upon our purpose by a charming man perfectly ignorant at that time of
the new psychology of nations in a war which was no longer a
professional adventure, surprised him. We took occasion to point out
to him that the British Empire, which had sent its men into this war,
yearned to know what they were doing and how they were doing, and that
their patience and loyalty depended upon closer knowledge of what was
happening than was told them in the communiques issued by the
Commander-in-Chief himself. We urged him to let us mention more
frequently the names of the troops engaged--especially English troops-
-for the sake of the soldiers themselves, who were discouraged by this
lack of recognition, and for the sake of the people behind them. . .
It was to the pressure of the war correspondents, very largely, that
the troops owed the mention and world-wide honor which came to them,
more generously, in the later phases of the war.

The Commander-in-Chief made a note of our grievances, turning now and
again to General Charteris, who was extremely nervous at our frankness
of speech, and telling him to relax the rules of censorship as far as
possible. That was done, and in later stages of the war I personally
had no great complaint against the censorship, and wrote all that was
possible to write of the actions day by day, though I had to leave out
something of the underlying horror of them all, in spite of my
continual emphasis, by temperament and by conviction, on the tragedy
of all this sacrifice of youth. The only alternative to what we wrote
would have been a passionate denunciation of all this ghastly
slaughter and violent attacks on British generalship. Even now I do
not think that would have been justified. As Bernard Shaw told me,
"while the war lasts one must put one's own soul under censorship."

After many bloody battles had been fought we were received again by
the Commander-in-Chief, and this time his cordiality was not marred by
any slighting touch.

"Gentlemen," he said, "you have played the game like men!"

When victory came at last--at last!--after the years of slaughter, it
was the little band of war correspondents on the British front, our
foreign comrades included, whom the Field-Marshal addressed on his
first visit to the Rhine. We stood on the Hohenzollern Bridge in
Cologne, watched by groups of Germans peering through the escort of
Lancers. It was a dank and foul day, but to us beautiful, because this
was the end of the long journey--four-and--a-half years long, which
had been filled with slaughter all the way, so that we were tired of
its backwash of agony, which had overwhelmed our souls--mine,
certainly. The Commander-in-Chief read out a speech to us, thanking us
for our services, which, he said, had helped him to victory, because
we had heartened the troops and the people by our work. It was a
recognition by the leader of our armies that, as chroniclers of war,
we had been a spiritual force behind his arms. It was a reward for
many mournful days, for much agony of spirit, for hours of danger--
some of us had walked often in the ways of death--and for exhausting
labors which we did so that the world might know what British soldiers
had been doing and suffering.




X


I came to know General Headquarters more closely when it removed, for
fresher air, to Montreuil, a fine old walled town, once within sight
of the sea, which ebbed over the low-lying ground below its hill, but
now looking across a wide vista of richly cultivated fields where many
hamlets are scattered among clumps of trees. One came to G. H. Q. from
journeys over the wild desert of the battlefields, where men lived in
ditches and "pill-boxes," muddy, miserable in all things but spirit,
as to a place where the pageantry of war still maintained its old and
dead tradition. It was like one of those pageants which used to be
played in England before the war--picturesque, romantic, utterly
unreal. It was as though men were playing at war here, while others
sixty miles away were fighting and dying, in mud and gas-waves and
explosive barrages.

An "open sesame," by means of a special pass, was needed to enter this
City of Beautiful Nonsense. Below the gateway, up the steep hillside,
sentries stood at a white post across the road, which lifted up on
pulleys when the pass had been examined by a military policeman in a
red cap. Then the sentries slapped their hands on their rifles to the
occupants of any motor-car, sure that more staff-officers were going
in to perform those duties which no private soldier could attempt to
understand, believing they belonged to such mysteries as those of God.
Through the narrow streets walked elderly generals, middle-aged
colonels and majors, youthful subalterns all wearing red hat-bands,
red tabs, and the blue-and-red armlet of G. H. Q., so that color went
with them on their way.

Often one saw the Commander-in-Chief starting for an afternoon ride, a
fine figure, nobly mounted, with two A. D. C.'s and an escort of
Lancers. A pretty sight, with fluttering pennons on all their lances,
and horses groomed to the last hair. It was prettier than the real
thing up in the salient or beyond the Somme, where dead bodies lay in
upheaved earth among ruins and slaughtered trees. War at Montreuil was
quite a pleasant occupation for elderly generals who liked their
little stroll after lunch, and for young Regular officers, released
from the painful necessity of dying for their country, who were glad
to get a game of tennis, down below the walls there, after strenuous
office-work in which they had written "Passed to you" on many
"minutes," or had drawn the most comical caricatures of their
immediate chief, and of his immediate chief, on blotting-pads and
writing-blocks.

It seemed, at a mere glance, that all these military inhabitants of G.
H. Q. were great and glorious soldiers. Some of the youngest of them
had a row of decorations from Montenegro, Serbia, Italy, Rumania, and
other states, as recognition of gallant service in translating German
letters (found in dugouts by the fighting-men), or arranging for
visits of political personages to the back areas of war, or initialing
requisitions for pink, blue, green, and yellow forms, which in due
course would find their way to battalion adjutants for immediate
filling-up in the middle of an action. The oldest of them, those
white-haired, bronze-faced, gray-eyed generals in the administrative
side of war, had started their third row of ribbons well before the
end of the Somme battles, and had flower-borders on their breasts by
the time the massacres had been accomplished in the fields of
Flanders. I know an officer who was awarded the D. S. 0. because he
had hindered the work of war correspondents with the zeal of a hedge-
sparrow in search of worms, and another who was the best-decorated man
in the army because he had presided over a visitors' chateau and
entertained Royalties, Members of Parliament, Mrs. Humphry Ward,
miners, Japanese, Russian revolutionaries, Portuguese ministers, Harry
Lauder, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, clergymen, Montenegrins, and the
Editor of John Bull, at the government's expense--and I am bound to
say he deserved them all, being a man of infinite tact, many
languages, and a devastating sense of humor. There was always a
Charlie Chaplin film between moving pictures of the battles of the
Somme. He brought the actualities of war to the visitors' chateau by
sentry-boxes outside the door, a toy "tank" in the front garden, and a
collection of war trophies in the hall. He spoke to High Personages
with less deference than he showed to miners from Durham and Wales,
and was master of them always, ordering them sternly to bed at ten
o'clock (when he sat down to bridge with his junior officers), and
with strict military discipline insisting upon their inspection of the
bakeries at Boulogne, and boot-mending factories at Calais, as part of
the glory of war which they had come out for to see.

So it was that there were brilliant colors in the streets of
Montreuil, and at every doorway a sentry slapped his hand to his
rifle, with smart and untiring iteration, as the "brains" of the army,
under "brass hats" and red bands, went hither and thither in the town,
looking stern, as soldiers of grave responsibility, answering salutes
absent--mindedly, staring haughtily at young battalion officers who
passed through Montreuil and looked meekly for a chance of a lorry-
ride to Boulogne, on seven days' leave from the lines.

The smart society of G. H. Q. was best seen at the Officers' Club in
Montreuil, at dinner-time. It was as much like musical comedy as any
stage setting of war at the Gaiety. A band played ragtime and light
music while the warriors fed, and all these generals and staff
officers, with their decorations and arm-bands and polished buttons
and crossed swords, were waited upon by little W. A. A. C.'s with the
G. H. Q. colors tied up in bows on their hair, and khaki stockings
under their short skirts and fancy aprons. Such a chatter! Such bursts
of light-hearted laughter! Such whisperings of secrets and intrigues
and scandals in high places! Such careless--hearted courage when
British soldiers were being blown to bits, gassed, blinded, maimed,
and shell-shocked in places that were far--so very far--from G. H. Q.!




XI


There were shrill voices one morning outside the gate of our quarters-
-women's voices, excited, angry, passionate. An orderly came into the
mess--we were at breakfast--and explained the meaning of the clamor,
which by some intuition and a quick ear for French he had gathered
from all this confusion of tongues.

"There's a soldier up the road, drunk or mad. He has been attacking a
girl. The villagers want an officer to arrest him."

The colonel sliced off the top of his egg and then rose. "Tell three
orderlies to follow me."

We went into the roadway, and twenty women crowded round us with a
story of attempted violence against an innocent girl. The man had been
drinking last night at the estaminet up there. Then he had followed
the girl, trying to make love to her. She had barricaded herself in
the room, when he tried to climb through the window.

"If you don't come out I'll get in and kill you," he said, according
to the women.

But she had kept him out, though he prowled round all night. Now he
was hiding in an outhouse. The brute! The pig!

When we went up the road the man was standing in the center of it,
with a sullen look.

"What's the trouble?" he asked. "It looks as if all France were out to
grab me."

He glanced sideways over the field, as though reckoning his chance of
escape. There was no chance.

The colonel placed him under arrest and he marched back between the
orderlies, with an old soldier of the Contemptibles behind him.

Later in the day he was lined up for identification by the girl, among
a crowd of other men.

The girl looked down the line, and we watched her curiously--a slim
creature with dark hair neatly coiled.

She stretched out her right hand with a pointing finger.

"Le voila! . . . c'est l'homme."

There was no mistake about it, and the man looked sheepishly at her,
not denying. He was sent off under escort to the military prison in
St. Omer for court-martial.

"What's the punishment--if guilty?" I asked.

"Death," said the colonel, resuming his egg.

He was a fine-looking fellow, the prisoner. He had answered the call
for king and country without delay. In the estaminet, after coming
down from the salient for a machine-gun course, he had drunk more beer
than was good for him, and the face of a pretty girl had bewitched
him, stirring up desire. He wanted to kiss her lips . . . There were
no women in the Ypres salient. Nothing pretty or soft. It was hell up
there, and this girl was a pretty witch, bringing back thoughts of the
other side--for life, womanhood, love, caresses which were good for
the souls and bodies of men. It was a starved life up there in the
salient . . . Why shouldn't she give him her lips? Wasn't he fighting
for France? Wasn't he a tall and proper lad? Curse the girl for being
so sulky to an English soldier! . . . And now, if those other women,
those old hags, were to swear against him things he had never said,
things he had never done, unless drink had made him forget--by God!
supposing drink had made him forget? He would be shot against a white
wall. Shot dead, disgracefully, shamefully, by his own comrades! O
Christ! and the little mother in a Sussex cottage! . . .




XII


Going up to Kemmel one day I had to wait in battalion headquarters for
the officer I had gone to see. He was attending a court martial.
Presently he came into the wooden hut, with a flushed face.

"Sorry I had to keep you," he said. "Tomorrow there will be one swine
less in the world."

"A death sentence?"

He nodded.

"A damned coward. Said he didn't mind rifle-fire, but couldn't stand
shells. Admitted he left his post. He doesn't mind rifle-fire! . . .
Well, tomorrow morning."

The officer laughed grimly, and then listened for a second.

There were some heavy crumps falling over Kemmel Hill, rather close,
it seemed, to our wooden hut.

"Damn those German gunners" said the officer. "Why can't they give us
a little peace?"

He turned to his papers, but several times while I talked with him he
jerked his head up and listened to a heavy crash.

On the way back I saw a man on foot, walking in front of a mounted
man, past the old hill of the Scherpenberg, toward the village of
Locre. There was something in the way he walked, in his attitude--the
head hunched forward a little, and his arms behind his back--which
made me turn to look at him. He was manacled, and tied by a rope to
the mounted man. I caught one glimpse of his face, and then turned
away, cold and sick. There was doom written on his face, and in his
eyes a captured look. He was walking to his wall.




XIII


There were other men who could not stand shell-fire. It filled them
with an animal terror and took all will-power out of them. One young
officer was like that man who "did not mind rifle-fire." He, by some
strange freak of psychology, was brave under machine-gun fire. He had
done several gallant things, and was bright and cheerful in the
trenches until the enemy barraged them with high explosive. Then he
was seen wandering back to the support trenches in a dazed way. It
happened three times, and he was sentenced to death. Before going out
at dawn to face the firing-squad he was calm. There was a lighted
candle on the table, and he sorted out his personal belongings and
made small packages of them as keepsakes for his family and friends.
His hand did not tremble. When his time came he put out the candle,
between thumb and finger, raised his hand, and said, "Right O!"

Another man, shot for cowardice in face of the enemy, was sullen and
silent to one who hoped to comfort him in the last hour. The chaplain
asked him whether he had any message for his relatives. He said, "I
have no relatives." He was asked whether he would like to say any
prayers, and he said, "I don't believe in them." The chaplain talked
to him, but could get no answer--and time was creeping on. There were
two guards in the room, sitting motionless, with loaded rifles between
their knees. Outside it was silent in the courtyard, except for little
noises of the night and the wind. The chaplain suffered, and was torn
with pity for that sullen man whose life was almost at an end. He took
out his hymn--book and said: "I will sing to you. It will pass the
time." He sang a hymn, and once or twice his voice broke a little, but
he steadied it. Then the man said, "I will sing with you." He knew all
the hymns, words and music. It was an unusual, astonishing knowledge,
and he went on singing, hymn after hymn, with the chaplain by his
side. It was the chaplain who tired first. His voice cracked and his
throat became parched. Sweat broke out on his forehead, because of the
nervous strain. But the man who was going to die sang on in a clear,
hard voice. A faint glimmer of coming dawn lightened the cottage
window. There were not many minutes more. The two guards shifted their
feet. "Now," said the man, "we'll sing 'God Save the King.'" The two
guards rose and stood at attention, and the chaplain sang the national
anthem with the man who was to be shot for cowardice. Then the tramp
of the firing-party came across the cobblestones in the courtyard. It
was dawn.




XIV


Shell-shock was the worst thing to see. There were generals who said:
"There is no such thing as shell-shock. It is cowardice. I would
court-martial in every case." Doctors said: "It is difficult to draw
the line between shell-shock and blue funk. Both are physical as well
as mental. Often it is the destruction of the nerve tissues by
concussion, or actual physical damage to the brain; sometimes it is a
shock of horror unbalancing the mind, but that is more rare. It is not
generally the slight, nervous men who suffer worst from shell-shock.
It is often the stolid fellow, one of those we describe as being
utterly without nerves, who goes down badly. Something snaps in him.
He has no resilience in his nervous system. He has never trained
himself in nerve-control, being so stolid and self-reliant. Now, the
nervous man, the cockney, for example, is always training himself in
the control of his nerves, on 'buses which lurch round corners, in the
traffic that bears down on him, in a thousand and one situations which
demand self-control in a 'nervy' man. That helps him in war; whereas
the yokel, or the sergeant--major type, is splendid until the shock
comes. Then he may crack. But there is no law. Imagination--
apprehension--are the devil, too, and they go with 'nerves.'"

It was a sergeant-major whom I saw stricken badly with shell-shock in
Aveluy Wood near Thiepval. He was convulsed with a dreadful rigor like
a man in epilepsy, and clawed at his mouth, moaning horribly, with
livid terror in his eyes. He had to be strapped to a stretcher before
he could be carried away. He had been a tall and splendid man, this
poor, terror-stricken lunatic.

Nearer to Thiepval, during the fighting there, other men were brought
down with shell-shock. I remember one of them now, though I saw many
others. He was a Wiltshire lad, very young, with an apple-cheeked face
and blue-gray eyes. He stood outside a dugout, shaking in every limb,
in a palsied way. His steel hat was at the back of his head and his
mouth slobbered, and two comrades could not hold him still.

These badly shell-shocked boys clawed their mouths ceaselessly. It was
a common, dreadful action. Others sat in the field hospitals in a
state of coma, dazed, as though deaf, and actually dumb. I hated to
see them, turned my eyes away from them, and yet wished that they
might be seen by bloody-minded men and women who, far behind the
lines, still spoke of war lightly, as a kind of sport, or heroic game,
which brave boys liked or ought to like, and said, "We'll fight on to
the last man rather than accept anything less than absolute victory,"
and when victory came said: "We stopped too soon. We ought to have
gone on for another three months." It was for fighting-men to say
those things, because they knew the things they suffered and risked.
That word "we" was not to be used by gentlemen in government offices
scared of air raids, nor by women dancing in scanty frocks at war-
bazaars for the "poor dear wounded," nor even by generals at G. H. Q.,
enjoying the thrill of war without its dirt and danger.

Seeing these shell-shock cases month after month, during years of
fighting, I, as an onlooker, hated the people who had not seen, and
were callous of this misery; the laughing girls in the Strand greeting
the boys on seven days' leave; the newspaper editors and leader-
writers whose articles on war were always "cheery"; the bishops and
clergy who praised God as the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied armies,
and had never said a word before the war to make it less inevitable;
the schoolmasters who gloried in the lengthening "Roll of Honor" and
said, "We're doing very well," when more boys died; the pretty woman-
faces ogling in the picture-papers, as "well--known war-workers"; the
munition-workers who were getting good wages out of the war; the
working-women who were buying gramophones and furs while their men
were in the stinking trenches; the dreadful, callous, cheerful spirit
of England at war.

Often I was unfair, bitter, unbalanced, wrong. The spirit of England,
taking it broad and large--with dreadful exceptions--was wonderful in
its courage and patience, and ached with sympathy for its fighting
sons, and was stricken with the tragedy of all this slaughter. There
were many tears in English homes; many sad and lonely women. But, as
an onlooker, I could not be just or fair, and hated the non-combatants
who did not reveal its wound in their souls, but were placid in their
belief that we should win, and pleased with themselves because of
their easy optimism. So easy for those who did not see!




XV


As war correspondents we were supposed to have honorary rank as
captains, by custom and tradition--but it amounted to nothing, here or
there. We were civilians in khaki, with green bands round our right
arms, and uncertain status. It was better so, because we were in the
peculiar and privileged position of being able to speak to Tommies and
sergeants as human beings, to be on terms of comradeship with junior
subalterns and battalion commanders, and to sit at the right hand of
generals without embarrassment to them or to ourselves.

Physically, many of our generals were curiously alike. They were men
turned fifty, with square jaws, tanned, ruddy faces, searching and
rather stern gray eyes, closely cropped hair growing white, with a
little white mustache, neatly trimmed, on the upper lip.

Mentally they had similar qualities. They had unfailing physical
courage--though courage is not put to the test much in modern
generalship, which, above the rank of brigadier, works far from the
actual line of battle, unless it "slips" in the wrong direction. They
were stern disciplinarians, and tested the quality of troops by their
smartness in saluting and on parade, which did not account for the
fighting merit of the Australians. Most of them were conservative by
political tradition and hereditary instinct, and conservative also in
military ideas and methods. They distrusted the "brilliant" fellow,
and were inclined to think him unsafe; and they were not quick to
allow young men to gain high command at the expense of their gray hair
and experience. They were industrious, able, conscientious men, never
sparing themselves long hours of work for a life of ease, and because
they were willing to sacrifice their own lives, if need be, for their
country's sake, they demanded equal willingness of sacrifice from
every officer and man under their authority, having no mercy whatever
for the slacker or the weakling.

Among them there was not one whose personality had that mysterious but
essential quality of great generalship--inspiring large bodies of men
with exalted enthusiasm, devotion, and faith. It did not matter to the
men whether an army commander, a corps commander, or a divisional
commander stood in the roadside to watch them march past on their way
to battle or on their way back. They saw one of these sturdy men in
his brass hat, with his ruddy face and white mustache, but no thrill
passed down their ranks, no hoarse cheers broke from them because he
was there, as when Wellington sat on his white horse in the Peninsular
War, or as when Napoleon saluted his Old Guard, or even as when Lord
Roberts, "Our Bob," came perched like a little old falcon on his big
charger.

Nine men out of ten in the ranks did not even know the name of their
army general or of the corps commander. It meant nothing to them. They
did not face death with more passionate courage to win the approval of
a military idol. That was due partly to the conditions of modern
warfare, which make it difficult for generals of high rank to get into
direct personal touch with their troops, and to the masses of men
engaged. But those difficulties could have been overcome by a general
of impressive personality, able to stir the imaginations of men by
words of fire spoken at the right time, by deep, human sympathy, and
by the luck of victory seized by daring adventure against great odds.

No such man appeared on the western front until Foch obtained the
supreme command. On the British front there was no general with the
gift of speech--a gift too much despised by our British men of action-
-or with a character and prestige which could raise him to the highest
rank in popular imagination. During the retreat from Mona, Sir John
French had a touch of that personal power--his presence meant
something to the men because of his reputation in South Africa; but
afterward, when trench warfare began, and the daily routine of
slaughter under German gun-fire, when our artillery was weak, and when
our infantry was ordered to attack fixed positions of terrible
strength without adequate support, and not a dog's chance of luck
against such odds, the prestige of the Commander-in-Chief faded from
men's minds and he lost place in their admiration. It was washed out
in blood and mud.

Sir Douglas Haig, who followed Sir John French, inherited the
disillusionment of armies who saw now that war on the western front
was to be a long struggle, with enormous slaughter, and no visible
sign of the end beyond a vista of dreadful years. Sir Douglas Haig, in
his general headquarters at St.-Omer, and afterward at Montreuil, near
the coast, had the affection and loyalty of the staff--officers. A man
of remarkably good looks, with fine, delicate features, strengthened
by the firm line of his jaw, and of singular sweetness, courtesy, and
simplicity in his manner toward all who approached him, he had
qualities which might have raised him to the supreme height of
personal influence among his armies but for lack of the magic touch
and the tragic condition of his command.

He was intensely shy and reserved, shrinking from publicity and
holding himself aloof from the human side of war. He was
constitutionally unable to make a dramatic gesture before a multitude,
or to say easy, stirring things to officers and men whom he reviewed.
His shyness and reserve prevented him also from knowing as much as he
ought to have known about the opinions of officers and men, and
getting direct information from them. He held the supreme command of
the British armies on the western front when, in the battlefields of
the Somme and Flanders, of Picardy and Artois, there was not much
chance for daring strategy, but only for hammer-strokes by the flesh
and blood of men against fortress positions--the German trench
systems, twenty-five miles deep in tunneled earthworks and machine-gun
dugouts--when the immensity of casualties among British troops was out
of all proportion to their gains of ground, so that our men's spirits
revolted against these massacres of their youth and they were
embittered against the generalship and staff-work which directed these
sacrificial actions.

This sense of bitterness became intense, to the point of fury, so that
a young staff officer, in his red tabs, with a jaunty manner, was like
a red rag to a bull among battalion officers and men, and they desired
his death exceedingly, exalting his little personality, dressed in a
well-cut tunic and fawn-colored riding-breeches and highly polished
top-boots, into the supreme folly of "the Staff" which made men attack
impossible positions, send down conflicting orders, issued a litter of
documents--called by an ugly name--containing impracticable
instructions, to the torment of the adjutants and to the scorn of the
troops. This hatred of the Staff was stoked high by the fires of
passion and despair. Some of it was unjust, and even the jaunty young
staff-officer--a G. S. O. 3, with red tabs and polished boots--was
often not quite such a fool as he looked, but a fellow who had proved
his pluck in the early days of the war and was now doing his duty--
about equal to the work of a boy clerk--with real industry and an
exaggerated sense of its importance.

Personally I can pay high tribute to some of our staff--officers at
divisional, corps, and army headquarters, because of their industry,
efficiency, and devotion to duty. And during the progress of battle I
have seen them, hundreds of times, working desperately for long hours
without much rest or sleep, so that the fighting-men should get their
food and munitions, so that the artillery should support their
actions, and the troops in reserve move up to their relief at the
proper time and place.

Owing largely to new army brains the administrative side of our war
became efficient in its method and organization, and the armies were
worked like clockwork machines. The transport was good beyond all
words of praise, and there was one thing which seldom failed to reach
poor old Tommy Atkins, unless he was cut off by shell-fire, and that
was his food. The motor-supply columns and ammunition-dumps were
organized to the last item. Our map department was magnificent, and
the admiration of the French. Our Intelligence branch became valuable
(apart from a frequent insanity of optimism) and was sometimes uncanny
in the accuracy of its information about the enemy's disposition and
plans. So that the Staff was not altogether hopeless in its effect, as
the young battalion officers, with sharp tongues and a sense of
injustice in their hearts, made out, with pardonable blasphemy, in
their dugouts.

Nevertheless the system was bad and British generalship made many
mistakes, some of them, no doubt, unavoidable, because it is human to
err, and some of them due to sheer, simple, impregnable stupidity.

In the early days the outstanding fault of our generals was their
desire to gain ground which was utterly worthless when gained. They
organized small attacks against strong positions, dreadfully costly to
take, and after the desperate valor of men had seized a few yards of
mangled earth, found that they had made another small salient, jutting
out from their front in a V-shaped wedge, so that it was a death-trap
for the men who had to hold it. This was done again and again, and I
remember one distinguished officer saying, with bitter irony,
remembering how many of his men had died, "Our generals must have
their little V's at any price, to justify themselves at G. H. Q."

In the battles of the Somme they attacked isolated objectives on
narrow fronts, so that the enemy swept our men with fire by artillery
concentrated from all points, instead of having to disperse his fire
during a general attack on a wide front. In the days of trench
warfare, when the enemy artillery was much stronger than ours, and
when his infantry strength was enormously greater, our generals
insisted upon the British troops maintaining an "aggressive" attitude,
with the result that they were shot to pieces, instead of adopting,
like the French, a quiet and waiting attitude until the time came for
a sharp and terrible blow. The battles of Neuve Chapelle, Fertubert,
and Loos, in 1915, cost us thousands of dead and gave us no gain of
any account; and both generalship and staff-work were, in the opinion
of most officers who know anything of those battles, ghastly.

After all, our generals had to learn their lesson, like the private
soldier, and the young battalion officer, in conditions of warfare
which had never been seen before--and it was bad for the private
soldier and the young battalion officer, who died so they might learn.
As time went on staff-work improved, and British generalship was less
rash in optimism and less rigid in ideas.




XVI


General Haldane was friendly to the war correspondents--he had been
something of the kind himself in earlier days--and we were welcomed at
his headquarters, both when he commanded the 3d Division and afterward
when he became commander of the 6th Corps. I thought during the war,
and I think now, that he had more intellect and "quality" than many of
our other generals. A tall, strongly built man, with a distinction of
movement and gesture, not "stocky" or rigid, but nervous and restless,
he gave one a sense of power and intensity of purpose. There was a
kind of slow-burning fire in him--a hatred of the enemy which was not
weakened in him by any mercy, and a consuming rage, as it appeared to
me, against inefficiency in high places, injustice of which he may
have felt himself to be the victim, and restrictions upon his liberty
of command. A bitter irony was often in his laughter when discussing
politicians at home, and the wider strategy of war apart from that on
his own front. He was intolerant of stupidity, which he found
widespread, and there was no tenderness or emotion in his attitude
toward life. The officers and men under his command accused him of
ruthlessness. But they admitted that he took more personal risk than
he need have done as a divisional general, and was constantly in the
trenches examining his line. They also acknowledged that he was
generous in his praise of their good service, though merciless if he
found fault with them. He held himself aloof--too much, I am sure--
from his battalion officers, and had an extreme haughtiness of bearing
which was partly due to reserve and that shyness which is in many
Englishmen and a few Scots.

In the old salient warfare he often demanded service in the way of
raids and the holding of death-traps, and the execution of minor
attacks which caused many casualties, and filled men with rage and
horror at what they believed to be unnecessary waste of life--their
life, and their comrades'--that did not make for popularity in the
ranks of the battalion messes. Privately, in his own mess, he was
gracious to visitors, and revealed not only a wide range of knowledge
outside as well as inside his profession, but a curious, unexpected
sympathy for ideas, not belonging as a rule to generals of the old
caste. I liked him, though I was always conscious of that flame and
steel in his nature which made his psychology a world away from mine.
He was hit hard--in what I think was the softest spot in his heart--by
the death of one of his A. D. C.'s--young Congreve, who was the beau
ideal of knighthood, wonderfully handsome, elegant even when covered
from head to foot in wet mud (as I saw him one day), fearless, or at
least scornful of danger, to the verge of recklessness. General
Haldane had marked him out as the most promising young soldier in the
whole army. A bit of shell, a senseless bit of steel, spoiled that
promise--as it spoiled the promise of a million boys--and the general
was saddened more than by the death of other gallant officers.

I have one memory of General Haldane which shows him in a different
light. It was during the great German offensive in the north, when
Arras was hard beset and the enemy had come back over Monchy Hill and
was shelling villages on the western side of Arras, which until then
had been undamaged. It was in one of these villages--near Avesnes-le-
Compte--to which the general had come back with his corps
headquarters, established there for many months in earlier days, so
that the peasants and their children knew him well by sight and had
talked with him, because he liked to speak French with them. When I
went to see him one day during that bad time in April of '18, he was
surrounded by a group of children who were asking anxiously whether
Arras would be taken. He drew a map for them in the dust of the
roadway, and showed them where the enemy was attacking and the general
strategy. He spoke simply and gravely, as though to a group of staff-
officers, and the children followed his diagram in the dust and
understood him perfectly.

"They will not take Arras if I can help it," he said. "You will be all
right here."




XVII


Gen. Sir Neville Macready was adjutant-general in the days of Sir John
French, and I dined at his mess once or twice, and he came to ours on
return visits. The son of Macready, the actor, he had a subtlety of
mind not common among British generals, to whom "subtlety" in any form
is repulsive. His sense of humor was developed upon lines of irony and
he had a sly twinkle in his eyes before telling one of his innumerable
anecdotes. They were good stories, and I remember one of them, which
had to do with the retreat from Mons. It was not, to tell the truth,
that "orderly" retreat which is described in second-hand accounts.
There were times when it was a wild stampede from the tightening loop
of a German advance, with lorries and motor-cycles and transport
wagons going helter-skelter among civilian refugees and mixed
battalions and stragglers from every unit walking, footsore, in small
groups. Even General Headquarters was flurried at times, far in
advance of this procession backward. One night Sir Neville Macready,
with the judge advocate and an officer named Colonel Childs (a hot-
headed fellow!), took up their quarters in a French chateau somewhere,
I think, in the neighborhood of Creil. The Commander-in-Chief was in
another chateau some distance away. Other branches of G. H. Q. were
billeted in private houses, widely scattered about a straggling
village.

Colonel Childs was writing opposite the adjutant-general, who was
working silently. Presently Childs looked up, listened, and said:

"It's rather quiet, sir, outside."

"So much the better," growled General Macready. "Get on with your
job."

A quarter of an hour passed. No rumble of traffic passed by the
windows. No gun-wagons were jolting over French pave.

Colonel Childs looked up again and listened.

"It's damned quiet outside, sir."

"Well, don't go making a noise," said the general, "Can't you see I'm
busy?"

"I think I'll just take a turn round," said Colonel Childs.

He felt uneasy. Something in the silence of the village scared him. He
went out into the roadway and walked toward Sir John French's
quarters. There was no challenge from a sentry. The British
Expeditionary Force seemed to be sleeping. They needed sleep--poor
beggars!--but the Germans did not let them take much.

Colonel Childs went into the Commander-in-Chief's chateau and found a
soldier in the front hall, licking out a jam-pot.

"Where's the Commander-in-Chief?" asked the officer.

"Gone hours ago, sir," said the soldier. "I was left behind for lack
of transport. From what I hear the Germans ought to be here by now. I
rather fancy I heard some shots pretty close awhile ago."

Colonel Childs walked back to his own quarters quickly. He made no
apology for interrupting the work of the adjutant-general.

"General, the whole box of tricks has gone. We've been left behind.
Forgotten!"

"The dirty dogs!" said General Macready.

There was not much time for packing up, and only one motor-car, and
only one rifle. The general said he would look after the rifle, but
Colonel Childs said if that were so he would rather stay behind and
take his chance of being captured. It would be safer for him. So the
adjutant-general, the judge advocate, the deputy assistant judge
advocate (Colonel Childs), and an orderly or two packed into the car
and set out to find G.H.Q. Before they found it they had to run the
gantlet of Germans, and were sniped all the way through a wood, and
took flying shots at moving figures. Then, miles away, they found
G.H.Q.

"And weren't they sorry to see me again!" said General Macready, who
told me the tale. "They thought they had lost me forever."

The day's casualty list was brought into the adjutant--general one
evening when I was dining in his mess. The orderly put it down by the
side of his plate, and he interrupted a funny story to glance down the
columns of names.

"Du Maurier has been killed. . . I'm sorry."

He put down the paper beside his plate again and continued his story,
and we all laughed heartily at the end of the anecdote. It was the
only way, and the soldier's way. There was no hugging of grief when
our best friend fell. A sigh, another ghost in one's life, and then,
"Carry on!"




XVIII


Scores of times, hundreds of times, during the battles of the Somme, I
passed the headquarters of Gen. Sir Henry Rawlinson, commanding the
Fourth Army, and several times I met the army commander there and
elsewhere. One of my first meetings with him was extraordinarily
embarrassing to me for a moment or two. While he was organizing his
army, which was to be called, with unconscious irony, "The Army of
Pursuit"--the battles of the Somme were a siege rather than a pursuit-
-he desired to take over the chateau at Tilques, in which the war
correspondents were then quartered. As we were paying for it and liked
it, we put up an opposition which was most annoying to his A.D.C.'s,
especially to one young gentleman of enormous wealth, haughty manners,
and a boyish intolerance of other people's interests, who had looked
over our rooms without troubling to knock at the doors, and then said,
"This will suit us down to the ground." On my way back from the
salient one evening I walked up the drive in the flickering light of
summer eve, and saw two officers coming in my direction, one of whom I
thought I recognized as an old friend.

"Hullo!" I said, cheerily. "You here again?"

Then I saw that I was face to face with Sir Henry Rawlinson. He must
have been surprised, but dug me in the ribs in a genial way, and said,
"Hullo, young feller!"

He made no further attempt to "pinch" our quarters, but my familiar
method of address could not have produced that result.

His headquarters at Querrieux were in another old chateau on the
Amiens-Albert road, surrounded by pleasant fields through which a
stream wound its way. Everywhere the sign-boards were red, and a
military policeman, authorized to secure obedience to the rules
thereon, slowed down every motor-car on its way through the village,
as though Sir Henry Rawlinson lay sick of a fever, so anxious were his
gestures and his expression of "Hush! do be careful!"

The army commander seemed to me to have a roguish eye. He seemed to be
thinking to himself, "This war is a rare old joke!" He spoke
habitually of the enemy as "the old Hun" or "old Fritz," in an
affectionate, contemptuous way, as a fellow who was trying his best
but getting the worst of it every time. Before the battles of the
Somme I had a talk with him among his maps, and found that I had been
to many places in his line which he did not seem to know. He could not
find there very quickly on his large-sized maps, or pretended not to,
though I concluded that this was "camouflage," in case I might tell
"old Fritz" that such places existed. Like most of our generals, he
had amazing, overweening optimism. He had always got the enemy "nearly
beat," and he arranged attacks during the Somme fighting with the
jovial sense of striking another blow which would lead this time to
stupendous results. In the early days, in command of the 7th Division,
he had done well, and he was a gallant soldier, with initiative and
courage of decision and a quick intelligence in open warfare. His
trouble on the Somme was that the enemy did not permit open warfare,
but made a siege of it, with defensive lines all the way back to
Bapaume, and every hillock a machine-gun fortress and every wood a
death-trap. We were always preparing for a "break-through" for cavalry
pursuit, and the cavalry were always being massed behind the lines and
then turned back again, after futile waiting, encumbering the roads.
"The bloodbath of the Somme," as the Germans called it, was ours as
well as theirs, and scores of times when I saw the dead bodies of our
men lying strewn over those dreadful fields, after desperate and, in
the end, successful attacks through the woods of death--Mametz Wood,
Delville Wood, Trones Wood, Bernafay Wood, High Wood, and over the
Pozieres ridge to Courcellette and Martinpuich--I thought of Rawlinson
in his chateau in Querrieux, scheming out the battles and ordering up
new masses of troops to the great assault over the bodies of their
dead. . . Well, it is not for generals to sit down with their heads in
their hands, bemoaning slaughter, or to shed tears over their maps
when directing battle. It is their job to be cheerful, to harden their
hearts against the casualty lists, to keep out of the danger-zone
unless their presence is strictly necessary. But it is inevitable that
the men who risk death daily, the fighting-men who carry out the plans
of the High Command and see no sense in them, should be savage in
their irony when they pass a peaceful house where their doom is being
planned, and green-eyed when they see an army general taking a stroll
in buttercup fields, with a jaunty young A.D.C. slashing the flowers
with his cane and telling the latest joke from London to his laughing
chief. As onlookers of sacrifice some of us--I, for one--adopted the
point of view of the men who were to die, finding some reason in their
hatred of the staffs, though they were doing their job with a sense of
duty, and with as much intelligence as God had given them. Gen. Sir
Henry Rawlinson was one of our best generals, as may be seen by the
ribbons on his breast, and in the last phase commanded a real "Army of
Pursuit," which had the enemy on the run, and broke through to
Victory. It was in that last phase of open warfare that Rawlinson
showed his qualities of generalship and once again that driving
purpose which was his in the Somme battles, but achieved only by
prodigious cost of life.




XIX


Of General Allenby, commanding the Third Army before he was succeeded
by Gen. Sir Julian Byng and went to his triumph in Palestine, I knew
very little except by hearsay. He went by the name of "The Bull,"
because of his burly size and deep voice. The costly fighting that
followed the battle of Arras on April 9th along the glacis of the
Scarpe did not reveal high generalship. There were many young
officers--and some divisional generals who complained bitterly of
attacks ordered without sufficient forethought, and the stream of
casualties which poured back, day by day, with tales of tragic
happenings did not inspire one with a sense of some high purpose
behind it all, or some presiding genius.

General Byng, "Bungo Byng," as he was called by his troops, won the
admiration of the Canadian Corps which he commanded, and afterward, in
the Cambrai advance of November, '17, he showed daring of conception
and gained the first striking surprise in the war by novel methods of
attack--spoiled by the quick come-back of the enemy under Von Marwitz
and our withdrawal from Bourlon Wood, Masnieres, and Marcoing, and
other places, after desperate fighting.

His chief of staff, Gen. Louis Vaughan, was a charming, gentle-
mannered man, with a scientific outlook on the problems of war, and so
kind in his expression and character that it seemed impossible that he
could devise methods of killing Germans in a wholesale way. He was
like an Oxford professor of history discoursing on the Marlborough
wars, though when I saw him many times outside the Third Army
headquarters, in a railway carriage, somewhere near Villers Carbonnel
on the Somme battlefields, he was explaining his preparations and
strategy for actions to be fought next day which would be of bloody
consequence to our men and the enemy.

General Birdwood, commanding the Australian Corps, and afterward the
Fifth Army in succession to General Gough, was always known as
"Birdie" by high and low, and this dapper man, so neat, so bright, so
brisk, had a human touch with him which won him the affection of all
his troops.

Gen. Hunter Weston, of the 8th Corps, was another man of character in
high command. He spoke of himself in the House of Commons one day as
"a plain, blunt soldier," and the army roared with laughter from end
to end. There was nothing plain or blunt about him. He was a man of
airy imagination and a wide range of knowledge, and theories on life
and war which he put forward with dramatic eloquence.

It was of Gen. Hunter Weston that the story was told about the drunken
soldier put onto a stretcher and covered with a blanket, to get him
out of the way when the army commander made a visit to the lines.

"What's this?" said the general.

"Casualty, sir," said the quaking platoon commander.

"Not bad, I hope?"

"Dead, sir," said the subaltern. He meant dead drunk.

The general drew himself up, and said, in his dramatic way, "The army
commander salutes the honored dead!"

And the drunken private put his head from under the blanket and asked,
"What's the old geezer a-sayin' of?"

That story may have been invented in a battalion mess, but it went
through the army affixed to the name of Hunter Weston, and seemed to
fit him.

The 8th Corps was on the left in the first attack on the Somme, when
many of our divisions were cut to pieces in the attempt to break the
German line at Gommecourt. It was a ghastly tragedy, which spoiled the
success on the right at Fricourt and Montauban. But Gen. Hunter Weston
was not degomme, as the French would say, and continued to air his
theories on life and warfare until the day of Victory, when once again
we had "muddled through," not by great generalship, but by the courage
of common men.

Among the divisional generals with whom I came in contact--I met most
of them at one time or another--were General Hull of the 56th (London)
Division, General Hickey of the 16th (Irish) Division, General Harper
of the 51st (Highland) Division, General Nugent of the 36th (Ulster)
Division, and General Pinnie of the 35th (Bantams) Division, afterward
of the 33d.

General Hull was a handsome, straight-speaking, straight-thinking man,
and I should say an able general. "Ruthless," his men said, but this
was a war of ruthlessness, because life was cheap. Bitter he was at
times, because he had to order his men to do things which he knew were
folly. I remember sitting on the window-sill of his bedroom, in an old
house of Arras, while he gave me an account of "the battle in the
dark," in which the Londoners and other English troops lost their
direction and found themselves at dawn with the enemy behind them.
General Hull made no secret of the tragedy or the stupidity. . . On
another day I met him somewhere on the other side of Peronne, before
March 21st, when he was commanding the 16th (Irish) Division in the
absence of General Hickey, who was ill. He talked a good deal about
the belief in a great German offensive, and gave many reasons for
thinking it was all "bluff." A few days later the enemy had rolled
over his lines. . . Out of thirteen generals I met at that time, there
were only three who believed that the enemy would make his great
assault in a final effort to gain decisive victory, though our
Intelligence had amassed innumerable proofs and were utterly convinced
of the approaching menace.

"They will never risk it!" said General Gorringe of the 47th (London)
Division. "Our lines are too strong. We should mow them down."

I was standing with him on a wagon, watching the sports of the London
men. We could see the German lines, south of St.-Quentin, very quiet
over there, without any sign of coming trouble. A few days later the
place where we were standing was under waves of German storm-troops.

I liked the love of General Hickey for his Irish division. An Irishman
himself, with a touch of the old Irish soldier as drawn by Charles
Lever, gay-hearted, proud of his boys, he was always pleased to see me
because he knew I had a warm spot in my heart for the Irish troops. He
had a good story to tell every time, and passed me on to "the boys" to
get at the heart of them. It was long before he lost hope of keeping
the division together, though it was hard to get recruits and losses
were high at Guillemont and Ginchy. For the first time he lost heart
and was very sad when the division was cut to pieces in a Flanders
battle. It lost 2,000 men and 162 officers before the battle began--
they were shelled to death in the trenches--and 2,000 men and 170
officers more during the progress of the battle. It was murderous and
ghastly.

General Harper of the 51st (Highland) Division, afterward commanding
the 4th Corps, had the respect of his troops, though they called him
"Uncle" because of his shock of white hair. The Highland division,
under his command, fought many battles and gained great honor, even
from the enemy, who feared them and called the kilted men "the ladies
from hell." It was to them the Germans sent their message in a small
balloon during the retreat from the Somme: "Poor old 51st. Still
sticking it! Cheery-oh!"

"Uncle" Harper invited me to lunch in his mess, and was ironical with
war correspondents, and censors, and the British public, and new
theories of training, and many things in which he saw no sense. There
was a smoldering passion in him which glowed in his dark eyes.

He was against bayonet-training, which took the field against rifle-
fire for a time.

"No man in this war," he said, with a sweeping assertion, "has ever
been killed by the bayonet unless he had his hands up first." And,
broadly speaking, I think he was right, in spite of the Director of
Training, who was extremely annoyed with me when I quoted this
authority.




XX


I met many other generals who were men of ability, energy, high sense
of duty, and strong personality. I found them intellectually, with few
exceptions, narrowly molded to the same type, strangely limited in
their range of ideas and qualities of character.

"One has to leave many gaps in one's conversation with generals," said
a friend of mine, after lunching with an army commander.

That was true. One had to talk to them on the lines of leading
articles in The Morning Post. Their patriotism, their knowledge of
human nature, their idealism, and their imagination were restricted to
the traditional views of English country gentlemen of the Tory school.
Anything outside that range of thought was to them heresy, treason, or
wishy-washy sentiment.

What mainly was wrong with our generalship was the system which put
the High Command into the hands of a group of men belonging to the old
school of war, unable, by reason of their age and traditions, to get
away from rigid methods and to become elastic in face of new
conditions.

Our Staff College had been hopelessly inefficient in its system of
training, if I am justified in forming such an opinion from specimens
produced by it, who had the brains of canaries and the manners of
Potsdam. There was also a close corporation among the officers of the
Regular Army, so that they took the lion's share of staff
appointments, thus keeping out brilliant young men of the new armies,
whose brain-power, to say the least of it, was on a higher level than
that of the Sandhurst standard. Here and there, where the
unprofessional soldier obtained a chance of high command or staff
authority, he proved the value of the business mind applied to war,
and this was seen very clearly--blindingly--in the able generalship of
the Australian Corps, in which most of the commanders, like Generals
Hobbs, Monash, and others, were men in civil life before the war. The
same thing was observed in the Canadian Corps, General Currie, the
corps commander, having been an estate agent, and many of his high
officers having had no military training of any scientific importance
before they handled their own men in France and Flanders.




XXI


As there are exceptions to every rule, so harsh criticism must be
modified in favor of the generalship and organization of the Second
Army-of rare efficiency under the restrictions and authority of the
General Staff. I often used to wonder what qualities belonged to Sir
Herbert Plumer, the army commander. In appearance he was almost a
caricature of an old-time British general, with his ruddy, pippin-
cheeked face, with white hair, and a fierce little white mustache, and
blue, watery eyes, and a little pot-belly and short legs. He puffed
and panted when he walked, and after two minutes in his company Cyril
Maude would have played him to perfection. The staff-work of his army
was as good in detail as any machinery of war may be, and the tactical
direction of the Second Army battles was not slipshod nor haphazard,
as so many others, but prepared with minute attention to detail and
after thoughtful planning of the general scheme. The battle of
Wytschaete and Messines was a model in organization and method, and
worked in its frightful destructiveness like the clockwork of a death
machine. Even the battles of Flanders in the autumn of '17, ghastly as
they were in the losses of our men in the state of the ground through
which they had to fight, and in futile results, were well organized by
the Second Army headquarters, compared with the abominable
mismanagement of other troops, the contrast being visible to every
battalion officer and even to the private soldier. How much share of
this was due to Sir Herbert Plumer it is impossible for me to tell,
though it is fair to give him credit for soundness of judgment in
general ideas and in the choice of men.

He had for his chief of staff Sir John Harington, and beyond all doubt
this general was the organizing brain of to Second Army, though with
punctilious chivalry he gave, always, the credit of all his work to
the army commander. A thin, nervous, highly strung man, with extreme
simplicity of manner and clarity of intelligence, he impressed me as a
brain of the highest temper and quality in staff-work. His memory for
detail was like a card-index system, yet his mind was not clogged with
detail, but saw the wood as well as the trees, and the whole broad
sweep of the problem which confronted him. There was something
fascinating as well as terrible in his exposition of a battle that he
was planning. For the first time in his presence and over his maps, I
saw that after all there was such a thing as the science of war, and
that it was not always a fetish of elementary ideas raised to the nth
degree of pomposity, as I had been led to believe by contact with
other generals and staff-officers. Here at least was a man who dealt
with it as a scientific business, according to the methods of science-
-calculating the weight and effect of gun-fire, the strength of the
enemy's defenses and man-power, the psychology of German generalship
and of German units, the pressure which could be put on British troops
before the breaking-point of courage, the relative or cumulative
effects of poison-gas, mines, heavy and light artillery, tanks, the
disposition of German guns and the probability of their movement in
this direction or that, the amount of their wastage under our counter-
battery work, the advantages of attacks in depth--one body of troops
"leap-frogging," another in an advance to further objectives--the
time-table of transport, the supply of food and water and ammunition,
the comfort of troops before action, and a thousand other factors of
success.

Before every battle fought by the Second Army, and of the eve of it,
Sir John Harington sent for the war correspondents and devoted an hour
or more to a detailed explanation of his plans. He put down all his
cards on the table with perfect candor, hiding nothing, neither
minimizing nor exaggerating the difficulties and dangers of the
attack, pointing out the tactical obstacles which must be overcome
before any chance of success, and exposing the general strategy in the
simplest and clearest speech.

I used to study him at those times, and marveled at him. After intense
and prolonged work at all this detail involving the lives of thousands
of men, he was highly wrought, with every nerve in his body and brain
at full tension, but he was never flurried, never irritable, never
depressed or elated by false pessimism or false optimism. He was a
chemist explaining the factors of a great experiment of which the
result was still uncertain. He could only hope for certain results
after careful analysis and synthesis. Yet he was not dehumanized. He
laughed sometimes at surprises he had caused the enemy, or was likely
to cause them--surprises which would lead to a massacre of their men.
He warmed to the glory of the courage of the troops who were carrying
out his plans.

"It depends on these fellows," he would say. "I am setting them a
difficult job. If they can do it, as I hope and believe, it will be a
fine achievement. They have been very much tried, poor fellows, but
their spirit is still high, as I know from their commanding officers."

One of his ambitions was to break down the prejudice between the
fighting units and the Staff. "We want them to know that we are all
working together, for the same purpose and with the same zeal. They
cannot do without us, as we cannot do without them, and I want them to
feel that the work done here is to help them to do theirs more easily,
with lighter losses, in better physical conditions, with organization
behind them at every stage."

Many times the Second Army would not order an attack or decide the
time of it before consulting the divisional generals and brigadiers,
and obtaining their consensus of opinion. The officers and men in the
Second Army did actually come to acknowledge the value of the staff-
work behind them, and felt a confidence in its devotion to their
interests which was rare on the western front.

At the end of one of his expositions Sir John Harington would rise and
gather up his maps and papers, and say:

"Well, there you are, gentlemen. You know as much as I do about the
plans for to-morrow's battle. At the end of the day you will be able
to see the result of all our work and tell me things I do not know."

Those conferences took place in the Second Army headquarters on Cassel
Hill, in a big building which was a casino before the war, with a far-
reaching view across Flanders, so that one could see in the distance
the whole sweep of the Ypres salient, and southward the country below
Notre Dame de Lorette, with Merville and Hazebrouck in the foreground.
Often we assembled in a glass house, furnished with trestle tables on
which maps were spread, and, thinking back to these scenes, I remember
now, as I write, the noise of rain beating on that glass roof, and the
clammy touch of fog on the window-panes stealing through the cracks
and creeping into the room. The meteorologist of the Second Army was
often a gloomy prophet, and his prophecies were right. How it rained
on nights when hundreds of thousands of British soldiers were waiting
in their trenches to attack in a murky dawn!. . . We said good night
to General Harington, each one of us, I think, excited by the thought
of the drama of human life and death which we had heard in advance in
that glass house on the hill; to be played out by flesh and blood
before many hours had passed. A kind of sickness took possession of my
soul when I stumbled down the rock path from those headquarters in
pitch darkness, over slabs of stones designed by a casino architect to
break one's neck, with the rain dribbling down one's collar, and, far
away, watery lights in the sky, of gun-flashes and ammunition-dumps
afire, and the noise of artillery thudding in dull, crumbling shocks.
We were starting early to see the opening of the battle and its
backwash. There would be more streams of bloody, muddy men, more
crowds of miserable prisoners, more dead bodies lying in the muck of
captured ground, more shells plunging into the wet earth and throwing
up columns of smoke and mud, more dead horses, disemboweled, and
another victory at fearful cost, over one of the Flanders ridges.

Curses and prayers surged up in my heart. How long was this to go on--
this massacre of youth, this agony of men? Was there no sanity left in
the world that could settle the argument by other means than this?
When we had taken that ridge to-morrow there would be another to take,
and another. And what then? Had we such endless reserves of men that
we could go on gaining ground at such a price? Was it to be
extermination on both sides? The end of civilization itself? General
Harington had said: "The enemy is still very strong. He has plenty of
reserves on hand and he is fighting hard. It won't be a walk-over to-
morrow."

As an onlooker I was overwhelmed by the full measure of all this
tragic drama. The vastness and the duration of its horror appalled me.
I went to my billet in an old monastery, and sat there in the
darkness, my window glimmering with the faint glow of distant shell-
flashes, and said, "O God, give us victory to-morrow, if that may help
us to the end." Then to bed, without undressing. There was an early
start before the dawn. Major Lytton would be with me. He had a gallant
look along the duckboards. . . Or Montague--white-haired Montague, who
liked to gain a far objective, whatever the risk, and gave one a
little courage by his apparent fearlessness. I had no courage on those
early mornings of battle. All that I had, which was little, oozed out
of me when we came to the first dead horses and the first dead men,
and passed the tumult of our guns firing out of the mud, and heard the
scream of shells. I hated it all with a cold hatred; and I went on
hating it for years that seem a lifetime. I was not alone in that
hatred, and other men had greater cause, though it was for their sake
that I suffered most, as an observer of their drama of death. . . As
observers we saw most of the grisly game.




Part Two


THE SCHOOL OF COURAGE


EARLY DAYS WITH THE NEW ARMY


I


By the time stationary warfare had been established on the western
front in trench lines from the sea to Switzerland, the British Regular
Army had withered away. That was after the retreat from Mons, the
victory of the Marne, the early battles round Ypres, and the slaughter
at Neuve Chapelle. The "Old Contemptibles" were an army of ghosts
whose dead clay was under earth in many fields of France, but whose
spirit still "carried on" as an heroic tradition to those who came
after them into those same fields, to the same fate. The only
survivors were Regular officers taken out of the fighting-lines to
form the staffs of new divisions and to train the army of volunteers
now being raised at home, and men who were recovering from wounds or
serving behind the lines: those, and non-commissioned officers who
were the best schoolmasters of the new boys, the best friends and
guides of the new officers, stubborn in their courage, hard and
ruthless in their discipline, foul-mouthed according to their own
traditions, until they, too, fell in the shambles. It was in March of
1915 that a lieutenant-colonel in the trenches said to me: "I am one
out of 150 Regular officers still serving with their battalions. That
is to say, there are 150 of us left in the fighting-lines out of
1,500."

That little Regular Army of ours had justified its pride in a long
history of fighting courage. It had helped to save England and France
by its own death. Those boys of ours whom I had seen in the first
August of the war, landing at Boulogne and marching, as though to a
festival, toward the enemy, with French girls kissing them and loading
them with fruit and flowers, had proved the quality of their spirit
and training. As riflemen they had stupefied the enemy, brought to a
sudden check by forces they had despised. They held their fire until
the German ranks were within eight hundred yards of them, and then
mowed them down as though by machine-gun fire--before we had machine-
guns, except as rare specimens, here and there. Our horse artillery
was beyond any doubt the best in the world at that time. Even before
peace came German generals paid ungrudging tributes to the efficiency
of our Regular Army, writing down in their histories of war that this
was the model of all armies, the most perfectly trained. . . It was
spent by the spring of '15. Its memory remains as the last epic of
those professional soldiers who, through centuries of English history,
took "the King's shilling" and fought when they were told to fight,
and left their bones in far places of the world and in many fields in
Europe, and won for the British soldier universal fame as a terrible
warrior. There will never be a Regular Army like that. Modern warfare
has opened the arena to the multitude. They may no longer sit in the
Coliseum watching the paid gladiators. If there be war they must take
their share of its sacrifice. They must be victims as well as victors.
They must pay for the luxury of conquest, hatred, and revenge by their
own bodies, and for their safety against aggression by national
service.

After the first quick phases of the war this need of national soldiers
to replace the professional forces became clear to the military
leaders. The Territorials who had been raised for home defense were
sent out to fill up the gaps, and their elementary training was shown
to be good enough, as a beginning, in the fighting-lines. The courage
of those Territorial divisions who came out first to France was
quickly proved, and soon put to the supreme test, in which they did
not fail. From the beginning to the end these men, who had made a game
of soldiering in days of peace, yet a serious game to which they had
devoted much of their spare time after working-hours, were splendid
beyond all words of praise, and from the beginning to the end the
Territorial officers--men of good standing in their counties, men of
brain and business training--were handicapped by lack of promotion and
treated with contempt by the High Command, who gave preference always
to the Regular officers in every staff appointment.

This was natural and inevitable in armies controlled by the old
Regular school of service and tradition. As a close corporation in
command of the machine, it was not within their nature or philosophy
to make way for the new type. The Staff College was jealous of its
own. Sandhurst and Woolwich were still the only schools of soldiering
recognized as giving the right "tone" to officers and gentlemen fit
for high appointment. The cavalry, above all, held the power of
supreme command in a war of machines and chemistry and national
psychology. . . .

I should hate to attack the Regular officer. His caste belonged to the
best of our blood. He was the heir to fine old traditions of courage
and leadership in battle. He was a gentleman whose touch of arrogance
was subject to a rigid code of honor which made him look to the
comfort of his men first, to the health of his horse second, to his
own physical needs last. He had the stern sense of justice of a Roman
Centurian, and his men knew that though he would not spare them
punishment if guilty, he would give them always a fair hearing, with a
point in their favor, if possible. It was in their code to take the
greatest risk in time of danger, to be scornful of death in the face
of their men whatever secret fear they had, and to be proud and
jealous of the honor of the regiment. In action men found them good to
follow--better than some of the young officers of the New Army, who
had not the same traditional pride nor the same instinct for command
nor the same consideration for their men, though more easy-going and
human in sympathy.

So I salute in spirit those battalion officers of the Old Army who
fulfilled their heritage until it was overwhelmed by new forces, and I
find extenuating circumstances even in remembrance of the high
stupidities, the narrow imagination, the deep, impregnable, intolerant
ignorance of Staff College men who with their red tape and their
general orders were the inquisitors and torturers of the new armies.
Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. They were molded in an old
system, and could not change their cliche.




II


The New Army was called into being by Lord Kitchener and his advisers,
who adopted modern advertising methods to stir the sluggish
imagination of the masses, so that every wall in London and great
cities, every fence in rural places, was placarded with picture-
posters.

. . . "What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?". . . "What will your
best girl say if you're not in khaki?"

Those were vulgar appeals which, no doubt, stirred many simple souls,
and so were good enough. It would have been better to let the people
know more of the truth of what was happening in France and Flanders--
the truth of tragedy, instead of carefully camouflaged communiques,
hiding the losses, ignoring the deeds of famous regiments, veiling all
the drama of that early fighting by a deliberate screen of mystery,
though all was known to the enemy. It was fear of their own people,
not of the enemy, which guided the rules of censorship then and later.

For some little time the British people did not understand what was
happening. How could they know? It appeared that all was going well.
Then why worry? Soon there would be the joy-bells of peace, and the
boys would come marching home again, as in earlier wars. It was only
very slowly--because of the conspiracy of silence--that there crept
into the consciousness of our people the dim realization of a
desperate struggle ahead, in which all their young manhood would be
needed to save France and Belgium, and--dear God!--England herself. It
was as that thought touched one mind and another that the recruiting
offices were crowded with young men. Some of them offered their bodies
because of the promise of a great adventure--and life had been rather
dull in office and factory and on the farm. Something stirred in their
blood--an old call to youth. Some instinct of a primitive, savage
kind, for open-air life, fighting, killing, the comradeship of
hunters, violent emotions, the chance of death, surged up into the
brains of quiet boys, clerks, mechanics, miners, factory hands. It was
the call of the wild--the hark-back of the mind to the old barbarities
of the world's dawn, which is in the embryo of modern man. The shock
of anger at frightful tales from Belgium--little children with their
hands cut off (no evidence for that one); women foully outraged;
civilians shot in cold blood--sent many men at a quick pace to the
recruiting agents. Others were sent there by the taunt of a girl, or
the sneer of a comrade in khaki, or the straight, steady look in the
eyes of a father who said, "What about it, Dick? . . .  The old
country is up against it." It was that last thought which worked in
the brain of England's manhood. That was his real call, which
whispered to men at the plow--quiet, ruminating lads, the peasant
type, the yeoman--and excited undergraduates in their rooms at Oxford
and Cambridge, and the masters of public schools, and all manner of
young men, and some, as I know, old in years but young in heart. "The
old country is in danger!" The shadow of a menace was creeping over
some little patch of England--or of Scotland.

"I's best be going," said the village boy.

"'Dulce et decorum est -'" said the undergraduate.

"I hate the idea, but it's got to be done," said the city--bred man.

So they disappeared from their familiar haunts--more and more of them
as the months passed. They were put into training-camps, "pigged" it
on dirty straw in dirty barns, were ill-fed and ill-equipped, and
trained by hard--mouthed sergeants--tyrants and bullies in a good
cause--until they became automata at the word of command, lost their
souls, as it seemed, in that grinding-machine of military training,
and cursed their fate. Only comradeship helped them--not always jolly,
if they happened to be a class above their fellows, a moral peg above
foul-mouthed slum-dwellers and men of filthy habits, but splendid if
they were in their own crowd of decent, laughter-loving, companionable
lads. Eleven months' training! Were they ever going to the front? The
war would be over before they landed in France. . . Then, at last,
they came.




III


It was not until July of 1915 that the Commander-in-Chief announced
that a part of the New Army was in France, and lifted the veil from
the secret which had mystified people at home whose boys had gone from
them, but who could not get a word of their doings in France.

I saw the first of the "Kitchener men," as we called them then. The
tramp of their feet in a steady scrunch, scrunch, along a gritty road
of France, passed the window of my billet very early in the mornings,
and I poked my head out to get another glimpse of those lads marching
forward to the firing-line. For as long as history lasts the
imagination of our people will strive to conjure up the vision of
those boys who, in the year of 1915, went out to Flanders, not as
conscript soldiers, but as volunteers, for the old country's sake, to
take their risks and "do their bit" in the world's bloodiest war. I
saw those fellows day by day, touched hands with them, went into the
trenches with them, heard their first tales, and strolled into their
billets when they had shaken down for a night or two within sound of
the guns. History will envy me that, this living touch with the men
who, beyond any doubt, did in their simple way act and suffer things
before the war ended which revealed new wonders of human courage and
endurance. Some people envied me then--those people at home to whom
those boys belonged, and who in country towns and villages and
suburban houses would have given their hearts to get one look at them
there in Flanders and to see the way of their life. . . How were they
living? How did they like it? How were they sleeping? What did the
Regulars think of the New Army?

"Oh, a very cheerful lot," said a sergeant-major of the old Regular
type, who was having a quiet pipe over a half-penny paper in a shed at
the back of some farm buildings in the neighborhood of Armentieres,
which had been plugged by two hundred German shells that time the day
before. (One never knew when the fellows on the other side would take
it into their heads to empty their guns that way. They had already
killed a lot of civilians thereabouts, but the others stayed on.)

"Not a bit of trouble with them," said the sergeant-major, "and all as
keen as when they grinned into a recruiting office and said, `I'm
going.' They're glad to be out. Over-trained, some of 'em. For ten
months we've been working 'em pretty hard. Had to, but they were
willing enough. Now you couldn't find a better battalion, though some
more famous. . . Till we get our chance, you know."

He pointed with the stem of his pipe to the open door of an old barn,
where a party of his men were resting.

"You'll find plenty of hot heads among them, but no cold feet. I'll
bet on that."

The men were lying on a stone floor with haversacks for pillows, or
squatting tailor-wise, writing letters home. From a far corner came a
whistling trio, harmonized in a tune which for some reason made me
think of hayfields in southern England.

They belonged to a Sussex battalion, and I said, "Any one here from
Burpham?"

One of the boys sat up, stared, flushed to the roots of his yellow
hair, and said, "Yes."

I spoke to him of people I knew there, and he was astonished that I
should know them. Distressed also in a queer way. Those memories of a
Sussex village seemed to break down some of the hardness in which he
had cased himself. I could see a frightful homesickness in his blue
eyes.

"P'raps I've seed the last o' Burpham," he said in a kind of whisper,
so that the other men should not hear.

The other men were from Arundel, Littlehampton, and Sussex villages.
They were of Saxon breed. There was hardly a difference between them
and some German prisoners I saw, yellow-haired as they were, with
fair, freckled, sun-baked skins. They told me they were glad to be out
in France. Anything was better than training at home.

"I like Germans more'n sergeant-majors," said one young yokel, and the
others shouted with laughter at his jest.

"Perhaps you haven't met the German sergeants," I said.

"I've met our'n," said the Sussex boy. "A man's a fool to be a
soldier. Eh, lads?"

They agreed heartily, though they were all volunteers.

"Not that we're skeered," said one of them. "We'll be glad when the
fighting begins."

"Speak for yourself, Dick Meekcombe, and don't forget the shells last
night."

There was another roar of laughter. Those boys of the South Saxons
were full of spirit. In their yokel way they were disguising their
real thoughts--their fear of being afraid, their hatred of the thought
of death--very close to them now--and their sense of strangeness in
this scene on the edge of Armentieres, a world away from their old
life.

The colonel sat in a little room at headquarters, a bronzed man with a
grizzled mustache and light-blue eyes, with a fine tenderness in his
smile.

"These boys of mine are all right," he said. "They're dear fellows,
and ready for anything. Of course, it was anxious work at first, but
my N. C. O.'s are a first-class lot, and we're ready for business."

He spoke of the recruiting task which had begun the business eleven
months ago. It had not been easy, among all those scattered villages
of the southern county. He had gone hunting among the farms and
cottages for likely young fellows. They were of good class, and he had
picked the lads of intelligence, and weeded out the others. They came
from a good stock--the yeoman breed. One could not ask for better
stuff. The officers were men of old county families, and they knew
their men. That was a great thing. So far they had been very lucky
with regard to casualties, though it was unfortunate that a company
commander, a fine fellow who had been a schoolmaster and a parson,
should have been picked off by a sniper on his first day out.

The New Army had received its baptism of fire, though nothing very
fierce as yet. They were led on in easy stages to the danger-zone. It
was not fair to plunge them straight away into the bad places. But the
test of steadiness was good enough on a dark night behind the reserve
trenches, when the reliefs had gone up, and there was a bit of digging
to do in the open.

"Quiet there, boys," said the sergeant-major. "And no larks."

It was not a larky kind of place or time. There was no moon, and a
light drizzle of rain fell. The enemy's trenches were about a thousand
yards away, and their guns were busy in the night, so that the shells
came overhead, and lads who had heard the owls hoot in English woods
now heard stranger night-birds crying through the air, with the noise
of rushing wings, ending in a thunderclap.

"And my old mother thinks I'm enjoying myself!" said the heir to a
seaside lodging-house.

"Thirsty work, this grave-digging job," said a lad who used to skate
on rollers between the bath-chairs of Brighton promenade.

"Can't see much in those shells," said a young man who once sold
ladies' blouses in an emporium of a south coast village. "How those
newspaper chaps do try to frighten us!"

He put his head on one side with a sudden jerk.

"What's that? Wasps?"

A number of insects were flying overhead with a queer, sibilant noise.
Somewhere in the darkness there was a steady rattle in the throat of a
beast.

"What's that, Sergeant?"

"Machine-gums, my child. Keep your head down, or you'll lose hold of
it. . . Steady, there. Don't get jumpy, now!"

The machine-gun was firing too high to do any serious damage. It was
probably a ricochet from a broken tree which made one of the boys
suddenly drop his spade and fall over it in a crumpled way.

"Get up, Charlie," said the comrade next to him; and then, in a scared
voice, "Oh, Sergeant!"

"That's all right," said the sergeant-major. "We're getting off very
lightly. New remember what I've been telling you. . . Stretcher this
way."

They were very steady through the night, this first company of the New
Army.

"Like old soldiers, sir," said the sergeant-major, when he stood
chatting with the colonel after breakfast.

It was a bit of bad luck, though not very bad, after all--which made
the Germans shell a hamlet into which I went just as some of the New
Army were marching through to their quarters. These men had already
seen what shellfire could do to knock the beauty out of old houses and
quiet streets. They had gone tramping through one or two villages to
which the enemy's guns had turned their attention, and had received
that unforgetable sensation of one's first sight of roofless cottages,
and great gaps in garden walls, and tall houses which have tumbled
inside themselves. But now they saw this destruction in the process,
and stood very still, listening to the infernal clatter as shells
burst at the other end of the street, tumbling down huge masses of
masonry and plugging holes into neat cottages, and tearing great
gashes out of red-brick walls.

"Funny business!" said one of the boys.

"Regular Drury Lane melodrama," said another.

"Looks as if some of us wouldn't be home in time for lunch," was
another comment, greeted by a guffaw along the line.

They tried to see the humor of it, though there was a false note in
some of the jokes. But it was the heroic falsity of boys whose pride
is stronger than their fear, that inevitable fear which chills one
when this beastliness is being done.

"Not a single casualty," said one of the officers when the storm of
shells ended with a few last concussions and a rumble of falling
bricks. "Anything wrong with our luck?"

Everything was all right with the luck of this battalion of the New
Army in its first experience of war on the first night in the danger-
zone. No damage was done even when two shells came into one of their
billets, where a number of men were sleeping after a hard day and a
long march.

"I woke up pretty quick," said one of them, "and thought the house had
fallen in. I was out of it before the second came. Then I laughed. I'm
a heavy sleeper, you know. [He spoke as if I knew his weakness.] My
mother bought me an alarm-clock last birthday. 'Perhaps you'll be down
for breakfast now,' she said. But a shell is better--as a knocker-up.
I didn't stop to dress."

Death had missed him by a foot or two, but he laughed at the fluke of
his escape.

"K.'s men" had not forgotten how to laugh after those eleven months of
hard training, and they found a joke in grisly things which do not
appeal humorously to sensitive men.

"Any room for us there?" asked one of these bronzed fellows as he
marched with his battalion past a cemetery where the fantastic devices
of French graves rose above the churchyard wall.

"Oh, we'll do all right in the open air, all along of the German
trenches," was the answer he had from the lad at his side. They
grinned at their own wit.




IV


I did not find any self-conscious patriotism among the rank and file
of the New Army. The word itself meant nothing to them. Unlike the
French soldier, to whom patriotism is a religion and who has the name
of France on his lips at the moment of peril, our men were silent
about the reasons for their coming out and the cause for which they
risked their lives. It was not for imperial power. Any illusion to
"The Empire" left them stone--cold unless they confused it with the
Empire Music Hall, when their hearts warmed to the name. It was not
because they hated Germans, because after a few turns in the trenches
many of them had a fellow-feeling for the poor devils over the way,
and to the end of the war treated any prisoners they took (after the
killing in hot blood) like pet monkeys or tame bears. But for
stringent regulations they would have fraternized with the enemy at
the slightest excuse, and did so in the winter of 1914, to the great
scandal of G. H. Q. "What's patriotism?" asked a boy of me, in Ypres,
and there was hard scorn in his voice. Yet the love of the old country
was deep down in the roots of their hearts, and, as with a boy who
came from the village where I lived for a time, the name of some such
place held all the meaning of life to many of them. The simple minds
of country boys clung fast to that, went back in waking dreams to
dwell in a cottage parlor where their parents sat, and an old clock
ticked, and a dog slept with its head on its paws. The smell of the
fields and the barns, the friendship of familiar trees, the heritage
that was in their blood from old yeoman ancestry, touched them with
the spirit of England, and it was because of that they fought.

The London lad was more self-conscious, had a more glib way of
expressing his convictions, but even he hid his purpose in the war
under a covering of irony and cynical jests. It was the spirit of the
old city and the pride of it which helped him to suffer, and in his
daydreams was the clanging of 'buses from Charing Cross to the Bank,
the lights of the embankment reflected in the dark river, the back
yard where he had kept his bicycle, or the suburban garden where he
had watered his mother's plants . . . London! Good old London! . . .
His heart ached for it sometimes when, as sentry, he stared across the
parapet to the barbed wire in No Man's Land.

One night, strolling outside my own billet and wandering down the lane
a way, I heard the sound of singing coming from a big brick barn on
the roadside. I stood close under the blank wall at the back of the
building, and listened. The men were singing "Auld Lang Syne" to the
accompaniment of a concertina and a mouth-organ. They were taking
parts, and the old tune--so strange to hear out in a village of
France, in the war zone--sounded very well, with deep-throated
harmonies. Presently the concertina changed its tune, and the men of
the New Army sang "God Save the King." I heard it sung a thousand
times or more on royal festivals and tours, but listening to it then
from that dark old barn in Flanders, where a number of "K.'s men" lay
on the straw a night or two away from the ordeal of advanced trenches,
in which they had to take their turn, I heard it with more emotion
than ever before. In that anthem, chanted by these boys in the
darkness, was the spirit of England. If I had been king, like that
Harry who wandered round the camp of Agincourt, where his men lay
sleeping, I should have been glad to stand and listen outside that
barn and hear those words:

Send him victorious, Happy and glorious.

As the chief of the British tribes, the fifth George received his
tribute from those warrior boys who had come out to fight for the flag
that meant to them some old village on the Sussex Downs, where a
mother and a sweetheart waited, or some town in the Midlands where the
walls were placarded with posters which made the Germans gibe, or old
London, where the 'buses went clanging down the Strand.

As I went back up the lane a dark figure loomed out, and I heard the
click of a rifle-bolt. It was one of K.'s men, standing sentry outside
the camp.

"Who goes there?"

It was a cockney voice.

"Friends."

"Pass, friends. All's well."

Yes, all was well then, as far as human courage and the spirit of a
splendid youthfulness counted in that war of high explosives and
destructive chemistry. The fighting in front of these lads of the New
Army decided the fate of the world, and it was the valor of those
young soldiers who, in a little while, were flung into hell-fires and
killed in great numbers, which made all things different in the
philosophy of modern life. That concertina in the barn was playing the
music of an epic which will make those who sang it seem like heroes of
mythology to the future race which will read of this death-struggle in
Europe. Yet it was a cockney, perhaps from Clapham junction or Peckham
Rye, who said, like a voice of Fate, "All's well."




V


When the New Army first came out to learn their lessons in the
trenches in the long days before open warfare, the enemy had the best
of it in every way. In gunpowder and in supplies of ammunition he was
our master all along the line, and made use of his mastery by flinging
over large numbers of shells, of all sizes and types, which caused a
heavy toll in casualties to us; while our gunners were strictly
limited to a few rounds a day, and cursed bitterly because they could
not "answer back." In March of 1915 I saw the first fifteen-inch
howitzer open fire. We called this monster "grandma," and there was a
little group of generals on the Scherpenberg, near Kemmel, to see the
effect of the first shell. Its target was on the lower slope of the
Wytschaete Ridge, where some trenches were to be attacked for reasons
only known by our generals and by God. Preliminary to the attack our
field-guns opened fire with shrapnel, which scattered over the German
trenches--their formidable earthworks with deep, shell-proof dugouts--
like the glitter of confetti, and had no more effect than that before
the infantry made a rush for the enemy's line and were mown down by
machine-gun fire--the Germans were very strong in machine-guns, and we
were very weak--in the usual way of those early days. The first shell
fired by our monster howitzer was heralded by a low reverberation, as
of thunder, from the field below us. Then, several seconds later,
there rose from the Wytschaete Ridge a tall, black column of smoke
which stood steady until the breeze clawed at it and tore it to
tatters.

"Some shell!" said an officer. "Now we ought to win the war--I don't
think!"

Later there arrived the first 9.2 (nine-point-two)--"aunty," as we
called it.

Well, that was something in the way of heavy artillery, and gradually
our gun-power grew and grew, until we could "answer back," and give
more than came to us; but meanwhile the New Army had to stand the
racket, as the Old Army had done, being strafed by harassing fire,
having their trenches blown in, and their billets smashed, and their
bodies broken, at all times and in all places within range of German
guns.

Everywhere the enemy was on high ground and had observation of our
position. From the Westhook Ridge and the Pilkem Ridge his observers
watched every movement of our men round Ypres, and along the main road
to Hooge, signaling back to their guns if anybody of them were
visible. From the Wytschaete Ridge (White-sheet, as we called it) and
Messines they could see for miles across our territory, not only the
trenches, but the ways up to the trenches, and the villages behind
them and the roads through the villages. They looked straight into
Kemmel village and turned their guns on to it when our men crouched
among its ruins and opened the graves in the cemetery and lay old
bones bare. Clear and vivid to them were the red roofs of Dickebusch
village and the gaunt ribs of its broken houses. (I knew a boy from
Fleet Street who was cobbler there in a room between the ruins.) Those
Germans gazed down the roads to Vierstraat and Vormizeele, and watched
for the rising of white dust which would tell them when men were
marching by--more cannon fodder. Southward they saw Neuve Eglise, with
its rag of a tower, and Plug Street wood. In cheerful mood, on sunny
days, German gunners with shells to spare ranged upon separate farm-
houses and isolated barns until they became bits of oddly standing
brick about great holes. They shelled the roads down which our
transport wagons went at night, and the communication trenches to
which our men moved up to the front lines, and gun-positions revealed
by every flash, and dugouts foolishly frail against their 5.9's, which
in those early days we could only answer by a few pip-squeaks. They
made fixed targets of crossroads and points our men were bound to
pass, so that to our men those places became sinister with remembered
horror and present fear: Dead Horse Corner and Dead Cow Farm, and the
farm beyond Plug Street; Dead Dog Farm and the Moated Grange on the
way to St.-Eloi; Stinking Farm and Suicide Corner and Shell-trap Barn,
out by Ypres.

All the fighting youth of our race took their turn in those places,
searched along those roads, lived in ditches and dugouts there, under
constant fire. In wet holes along the Yser Canal by Ypres, young
officers who had known the decencies of home life tried to camouflage
their beastliness by giving a touch of decoration to the clammy walls.
They bought Kirchner prints of little ladies too lightly clad for the
climate of Flanders, and pinned them up as a reminder of the dainty
feminine side of life which here was banished. They brought broken
chairs and mirrors from the ruins of Ypres, and said, "It's quite
cozy, after all!"

And they sat there chatting, as in St. James's Street clubs, in the
same tone of voice, with the same courtesy and sense of humor--while
they listened to noises without, and wondered whether it would be to-
day or to-morrow, or in the middle of the sentence they were speaking,
that bits of steel would smash through that mud above their heads and
tear them to bits and make a mess of things.

There was an officer of the Coldstream Guards who sat in one of these
holes, like many others. A nice, gentle fellow, fond of music, a fine
judge of wine, a connoisseur of old furniture and good food. It was
cruelty to put such a man into a hole in the earth, like the ape-
houses of Hagenbeck's Zoo. He had been used to comfort, the little
luxuries of court life. There, on the canal-bank, he refused to sink
into the squalor. He put on pajamas at night before sleeping in his
bunk--silk pajamas--and while waiting for his breakfast smoked his own
brand of gold-tipped cigarettes, until one morning a big shell blew
out the back of his dugout and hurled him under a heap of earth and
timber. He crawled out, cursing loudly with a nice choice of language,
and then lit another gold--tipped cigarette, and called to his servant
for breakfast. His batman was a fine lad, brought up in the old
traditions of service to an officer of the Guards, and he provided
excellent little meals, done to a turn, until something else happened,
and he was buried alive within a few yards of his master. . . Whenever
I went to the canal-bank, and I went there many times (when still and
always hungry high velocities came searching for a chance meal), I
thought of my friend in the Guards, and of other men I knew who had
lived there in the worst days, and some of whom had died there. They
hated that canal-bank and dreaded it, but they jested in their
dugouts, and there was the laughter of men who hid the fear in their
hearts and were "game" until some bit of steel plugged them with a
gaping wound or tore their flesh to tatters.




VI


Because the enemy was on the high ground and our men were in the low
ground, many of our trenches were wet and waterlogged, even in summer,
after heavy rain. In winter they were in bogs and swamps, up by St.-
Eloi and southward this side of Gommecourt, and in many other evil
places. The enemy drained his water into our ditches when he could,
with the cunning and the science of his way of war, and that made our
men savage.

I remember going to the line this side of Fricourt on an August day in
'15. It was the seventeenth of August, as I have it in my diary, and
the episode is vivid in my mind because I saw then the New Army lads
learning one of the lessons of war in one of the foulest places. I
also learned the sense of humor of a British general, and afterward,
not enjoying the joke, the fatalistic valor of officers and men (in
civil life a year before) who lived with the knowledge that the ground
beneath them was mined and charged with high explosives, and might
hurl them to eternity between the whiffs of a cigarette.

We were sitting in the garden of the general's headquarters, having a
picnic meal before going into the trenches. In spite of the wasps,
which attacked the sandwiches, it was a nice, quiet place in time of
war. No shell same crashing in our neighborhood (though we were well
within range of the enemy's guns), and the loudest noise was the drop
of an over-ripe apple in the orchard. Later on a shrill whistle
signaled a hostile airplane overhead, but it passed without throwing a
bomb.

"You will have a moist time in some of the trenches," said the general
(whose boots were finely polished). "The rain has made them rather
damp. . . But you must get down as far as the mine craters. We're
expecting the Germans to fire one at any moment, and some of our
trenches are only six yards away from the enemy. It's an interesting
place."

The interest of it seemed to me too much of a good thing, and I
uttered a pious prayer that the enemy would not explode his beastly
mine under me. It makes such a mess of a man.

A staff captain came out with a report, which he read: "The sound of
picks has been heard close to our sap-head. The enemy will probably
explode their mine in a few hours."

"That's the place I was telling you about," said the general. "It's
well worth a visit. . . But you must make up your mind to get your
feet wet."

As long as I could keep my head dry and firmly fixed to my shoulders,
I was ready to brave the perils of wet feet with any man.

It had been raining heavily for a day or two. I remember thinking that
in London--which seemed a long way off--people were going about under
umbrellas and looking glum when their clothes were splashed by passing
omnibuses. The women had their skirts tucked up and showed their
pretty ankles. (Those things used to happen in the far-off days of
peace.) But in the trenches, those that lay low, rain meant something
different, and hideously uncomfortable for men who lived in holes. Our
soldiers, who cursed the rain--as in the old days, "they swore
terribly in Flanders"--did not tuck their clothes up above their
ankles. They took off their trousers.

There was something ludicrous, yet pitiable, in the sight of those
hefty men coming back through the communication trenches with the
tails of their shirts flapping above their bare legs, which were
plastered with a yellowish mud. Shouldering their rifles or their
spades, they trudged on grimly through two feet of water, and the
boots which they wore without socks squelched at every step with a
loud, sucking noise--"like a German drinking soup," said an officer
who preceded me.

"Why grouse?" he said, presently. "It's better than Brighton!"

It was a queer experience, this paddling through the long
communication trenches, which wound in and out like the Hampton Court
maze toward the front line, and the mine craters which made a salient
to our right, by a place called the "Tambour." Shells came whining
overhead and somewhere behind us iron doors were slamming in the sky,
with metallic bangs, as though opening and shutting in a tempest. The
sharp crack of rifle-shots showed that the snipers were busy on both
sides, and once I stood in a deep pool, with the water up to my knees,
listening to what sounded like the tap-tap-tap of invisible
blacksmiths playing a tattoo on an anvil.

It was one of our machine-guns at work a few yards away from my head,
which I ducked below the trench parapet. Splodge! went the officer in
front of me, with a yell of dismay. The water was well above his top-
boots. Splosh! went another man ahead, recovering from a side-slip in
the oozy mud and clinging desperately to some bunches of yarrow
growing up the side of the trench. Squelch! went a young gentleman
whose puttees and breeches had lost their glory and were but swabs
about his elegant legs.

"Clever fellows!" said the officer, as two of us climbed on to the
fire-stand of the trench in order to avoid a specially deep water-
hole, and with ducked heads and bodies bent double (the Germans were
only two hundred yards on the other side of the parapet) walked on dry
earth for at least ten paces. The officer's laughter was loud at the
corner of the next traverse, when there was an abrupt descent into a
slough of despond.

"And I hope they can swim!" said an ironical voice from a dugout, as
the officers passed. They were lying in wet mud in those square
burrows, the men who had been working all night under their platoon
commanders, and were now sleeping and resting in their trench
dwellings. As I paddled on I glanced at those men lying on straw which
gave out a moist smell, mixed with the pungent vapors of chloride of
lime. They were not interested in the German guns, which were giving
their daily dose of "hate" to the village of Becourt-Becordel. The
noise did not interrupt their heavy, slumbrous breathing. Some of
those who were awake were reading novelettes, forgetting war in the
eternal plot of cheap romance. Others sat at the entrance of their
burrows with their knees tucked up, staring gloomily to the opposite
wall of the trench in day-dreams of some places betwixt Aberdeen and
Hackney Downs. I spoke to one of them, and said, "How are you getting
on?" He answered, "I'm not getting on. . . I don't see the fun of
this."

"Can you keep dry?"

"Dry? . . . I'm soaked to the skin."

"What's it like here?"

"It's hell. . . The devils blow up mines to make things worse."

Another boy spoke.

"Don't you mind what he says, sir. He's always a gloomy bastard.
Doesn't believe in his luck."

There were mascots for luck, at the doorways of their dugouts--a
woman's face carved in chalk, the name of a girl written in pebbles, a
portrait of the King in a frame of withered wild flowers.

A company of our New Army boys had respected a memento of French
troops who were once in this section of trenches. It was an altar
built into the side of the trench, where mass was said each morning by
a soldier--priest. It was decorated with vases and candlesticks, and
above the altar-table was a statue, crudely modeled, upon the base of
which I read the words Notre Dame des Tranchees ("Our Lady of the
Trenches"). A tablet fastened in the earth-wall recorded in French the
desire of those who worshiped here:

"This altar, dedicated to Our Lady of the Trenches, was blessed by the
chaplain of the French regiment. The 9th Squadron of the 6th Company
recommends its care and preservation to their successors. Please do
not touch the fragile statue in trench-clay."

"Our Lady of the Trenches!" It was the first time I had heard of this
new title of the Madonna, whose spirit, if she visited those ditches
of death, must have wept with pity for all those poor children of
mankind whose faith was so unlike the work they had to do.

From a dugout near the altar there came tinkling music. A young
soldier was playing the mandolin to two comrades. "All the latest
ragtime," said one of them with a grin.

So we paddled on our way, glimpsing every now and then over the
parapets at the German lines a few hundred yards away, and at a
village in which the enemy was intrenched, quiet and sinister there.
The water through which we waded was alive with a multitude of
swimming frogs. Red slugs crawled up the sides of the trenches, and
queer beetles with dangerous-looking horns wriggled along dry ledges
and invaded the dugouts in search of the vermin which infested them.

"Rats are the worst plague," said a colonel, coming out of the
battalion headquarters, where he had a hole large enough for a bed and
table. "There are thousands of rats in this part of the line, and
they're audacious devils. In the dugout next door the straw at night
writhes with them. . . I don't mind the mice so much. One of them
comes to dinner on my table every evening, a friendly little beggar
who is very pally with me."

We looked out above the mine-craters, a chaos of tumbled earth, where
our trenches ran so close to the enemy's that it was forbidden to
smoke or talk, and where our sappers listened with all their souls in
their ears to any little tapping or picking which might signal
approaching upheaval. The coats of some French soldiers, blown up long
ago by some of these mines, looked like the blue of the chicory flower
growing in the churned-up soil. . . The new mine was not fired that
afternoon, up to the time of my going away. But it was fired next day,
and I wondered whether the gloomy boy had gone up with it. There was a
foreknowledge of death in his eyes.

One of the officers had spoken to me privately.

"I'm afraid of losing my nerve before the men. It haunts me, that
thought. The shelling is bad enough, but it's the mining business that
wears one's nerve to shreds. One never knows."

I hated to leave him there to his agony. . . The colonel himself was
all nerves, and he loathed the rats as much as the shell-fire and the
mining, those big, lean, hungry rats of the trenches, who invaded the
dugouts and frisked over the bodies of sleeping men. One young
subaltern was in terror of them. He told me how he shot at one, seeing
the glint of its eyes in the darkness. The bullet from his revolver
ricocheted from wall to wall, and he was nearly court-martialed for
having fired.

The rats, the lice that lived on the bodies of our men, the water-
logged trenches, the shell-fire which broke down the parapets and
buried men in wet mud, wetter for their blood, the German snipers
waiting for English heads, and then the mines--oh, a cheery little
school of courage for the sons of gentlemen! A gentle academy of war
for the devil and General Squeers!




VII


The city of Ypres was the capital of our battlefields in Flanders from
the beginning to the end of the war, and the ground on which it
stands, whether a new city rises there or its remnants of ruin stay as
a memorial of dreadful things, will be forever haunted by the spirit
of those men of ours who passed through its gates to fight in the
fields beyond or to fall within its ramparts.

I went through Ypres so many times in early days and late days of the
war that I think I could find my way about it blindfold, even now. I
saw it first in March of 1915, before the battle when the Germans
first used poison-gas and bombarded its choking people, and French and
British soldiers, until the city fell into a chaos of masonry. On that
first visit I found it scarred by shell--fire, and its great Cloth
Hall was roofless and licked out by the flame of burning timbers, but
most of the buildings were still standing and the shops were busy with
customers in khaki, and in the Grande Place were many small booths
served by the women and girls who sold picture post-cards and Flemish
lace and fancy cakes and soap to British soldiers sauntering about
without a thought of what might happen here in this city, so close to
the enemy's lines, so close to his guns. I had tea in a bun-shop,
crowded with young officers, who were served by two Flemish girls,
buxom, smiling, glad of all the English money they were making.

A few weeks later the devil came to Ypres. The first sign of his work
was when a mass of French soldiers and colored troops, and English,
Irish, Scottish, and Canadian soldiers came staggering through the
Lille and Menin gates with panic in their look, and some foul spell
upon them. They were gasping for breath, vomiting, falling into
unconsciousness, and, as they lay, their lungs were struggling
desperately against some stifling thing. A whitish cloud crept up to
the gates of Ypres, with a sweet smell of violets, and women and girls
smelled it and then gasped and lurched as they ran and fell. It was
after that when shells came in hurricane flights over Ypres, smashing
the houses and setting them on fire, until they toppled and fell
inside themselves. Hundreds of civilians hid in their cellars, and
many were buried there. Others crawled into a big drain-pipe--there
were wounded women and children among them, and a young French
interpreter, the Baron de Rosen, who tried to help them--and they
stayed there three days and nights, in their vomit and excrement and
blood, until the bombardment ceased. Ypres was a city of ruin, with a
red fire in its heart where the Cloth Hall and cathedral smoldered
below their broken arches and high ribs of masonry that had been their
buttresses and towers.

When I went there two months later I saw Ypres as it stood through the
years of the war that followed, changing only in the disintegration of
its ruin as broken walls became more broken and fallen houses were
raked into smaller fragments by new bombardments, for there was never
a day for years in which Ypres was not shelled.

The approach to it was sinister after one had left Poperinghe and
passed through the skeleton of Vlamertinghe church, beyond Goldfish
Chateau. . . For a long time Poperinghe was the last link with a life
in which men and women could move freely without hiding from the
pursuit of death; and even there, from time to time, there were shells
from long-range guns and, later, night-birds dropping high-explosive
eggs. Round about Poperinghe, by Reninghelst and Locre, long convoys
of motor-wagons, taking up a new day's rations from the rail-heads,
raised clouds of dust which powdered the hedges white. Flemish cart-
horses with huge fringes of knotted string wended their way between
motor-lorries and gun-limbers. Often the sky was blue above the hop-
gardens, with fleecy clouds over distant woodlands and the gray old
towers of Flemish churches and the windmills on Mont Rouge and Mont
Neir, whose sails have turned through centuries of peace and strife.
It all comes back to me as I write--that way to Ypres, and the sounds
and the smells of the roads and fields where the traffic of war went
up, month after month, year after year.

That day when I saw it first, after the gas-attack, was strangely
quiet, I remember. There was "nothing doing," as our men used to say.
The German gunners seemed asleep in the noonday sun, and it was a
charming day for a stroll and a talk about the raving madness of war
under every old hedge.

"What about lunch in Dickebusch on the way up?" asked one of my
companions. There were three of us.

It seemed a good idea, and we walked toward the village which then--
they were early days!--looked a peaceful spot, with a shimmer of
sunshine above its gray thatch and red-tiled roofs.

Suddenly one of us said, "Good God!"

An iron door had slammed down the corridors of the sky and the hamlet
into which we were just going was blotted out by black smoke, which
came up from its center as though its market-place had opened up and
vomited out infernal vapors.

"A big shell that!" said one man, a tall, lean-limbed officer, who
later in the war was sniper-in-chief of the British army. Something
enraged him at the sight of that shelled village.

"Damn them!" he said. "Damn the war! Damn all dirty dogs who smash up
life!"

Four times the thing happened, and we were glad there had been a
minute or so between us and Dickebusch. (In Dickebusch my young
cobbler friend from Fleet Street was crouching low, expecting death.)
The peace of the day was spoiled. There was seldom a real peace on the
way to Ypres. The German gunners had wakened up again. They always
did. They were getting busy, those house-wreckers. The long rush of
shells tore great holes through the air. Under a hedge, with our feet
in the ditch, we ate the luncheon we had carried in our pockets.

"A silly idea!" said the lanky man, with a fierce, sad look in his
eyes. He was Norman-Irish, and a man of letters, and a crack shot, and
all the boys he knew were being killed.

"What's silly?" I asked, wondering what particular foolishness he was
thinking of, in a world of folly.

"Silly to die with a broken bit of sandwich in one's mouth, just
because some German fellow, some fat, stupid man a few miles away,
looses off a bit of steel in search of the bodies of men with whom he
has no personal acquaintance."

"Damn silly," I said.

"That's all there is to it in modern warfare," said the lanky man."
It's not like the old way of fighting, body to body. Your strength
against your enemy's, your cunning against his. Now it is mechanics
and chemistry. What is the splendor of courage, the glory of youth,
when guns kill at fifteen miles?"

Afterward this man went close to the enemy, devised tricks to make him
show his head, and shot each head that showed.

The guns ceased fire. Their tumult died down, and all was quiet again.
It was horribly quiet on our way into Ypres, across the railway, past
the red-brick asylum, where a calvary hung unscathed on broken walls,
past the gas-tank at the crossroads. This silence was not reassuring,
as our heels clicked over bits of broken brick on our way into Ypres.
The enemy had been shelling heavily for three-quarters of an hour in
the morning. There was no reason why he should not begin again. . . I
remember now the intense silence of the Grande Place that day after
the gas-attack, when we three men stood there looking up at the
charred ruins of the Cloth Hall. It was a great solitude of ruin. No
living figure stirred among the piles of masonry which were tombstones
above many dead. We three were like travelers who had come to some
capital of an old and buried civilization, staring with awe and
uncanny fear at this burial-place of ancient splendor, with broken
traces of peoples who once had lived here in security. I looked up at
the blue sky above those white ruins, and had an idea that death
hovered there like a hawk ready to pounce. Even as one of us (not I)
spoke the thought, the signal came. It was a humming drone high up in
the sky.

"Look out!" said the lanky man. "Germans!"

It was certain that two birds hovering over the Grande Place were
hostile things, because suddenly white puffballs burst all round them,
as the shrapnel of our own guns scattered about them. But they flew
round steadily in a half-circle until they were poised above our
heads.

It was time to seek cover, which was not easy to find just there,
where masses of stonework were piled high. At any moment things might
drop. I ducked my head behind a curtain of bricks as I heard a shrill
"coo-ee!" from a shell. It burst close with a scatter, and a tin cup
was flung against a bit of wall close to where the lanky man sat in a
shell-hole. He picked it up and said, "Queer!" and then smelled it,
and said "Queer!" again. It was not an ordinary bomb. It had held some
poisonous liquid from a German chemist's shop. Other bombs were
dropping round as the two hostile airmen circled overhead, untouched
still by the following shell-bursts. Then they passed toward their own
lines, and my friend in the shell-hole called to me and said, "Let's
be going."

It was time to go.

When we reached the edge of the town our guns away back started
shelling, and we knew the Germans would answer. So we sat in a field
nearby to watch the bombardment. The air moved with the rushing waves
which tracked the carry of each shell from our batteries, and over
Ypres came the high singsong of the enemies' answering voice.

As the dusk fell there was a movement out from Vlamertinghe, a
movement of transport wagons and marching men. They were going up in
the darkness through Ypres--rations and reliefs. They were the New
Army men of the West Riding.

"Carry on there," said a young officer at the head of his company.
Something in his eyes startled me. Was it fear, or an act of
sacrifice? I wondered if he would be killed that night. Men were
killed most nights on the way through Ypres, sometimes a few and
sometimes many. One shell killed thirty one night, and their bodies
lay strewn, headless and limbless, at the corner of the Grande Place.
Transport wagons galloped their way through, between bursts of shell-
fire, hoping to dodge them, and sometimes not dodging them. I saw the
litter of their wheels and shafts, and the bodies of the drivers, and
the raw flesh of the dead horses that had not dodged them. Many men
were buried alive in Ypres, under masses of masonry when they had been
sleeping in cellars, and were wakened by the avalanche above them.
Comrades tried to dig them out, to pull away great stones, to get down
to those vaults below from which voices were calling; and while they
worked other shells came and laid dead bodies above the stones which
had entombed their living comrades. That happened, not once or twice,
but many times in Ypres.

There was a Town Major of Ypres. Men said it was a sentence of death
to any officer appointed to that job. I think one of them I met had
had eleven predecessors. He sat in a cellar of the old prison, with
walls of sandbags on each side of him, but he could not sit there very
long at a stretch, because it was his duty to regulate the traffic
according to the shell-fire. He kept a visitors' book as a hobby,
until it was buried under piles of prison, and was a hearty, cheerful
soul, in spite of the menace of death always about him.




VIII


My memory goes back to a strange night in Ypres in those early days.
It was Gullett, the Australian eyewitness, afterward in Palestine, who
had the idea.

"It would be a great adventure," he said, as we stood listening to the
gun-fire over there.

"It would be damn silly," said a staff officer. "Only a stern sense of
duty would make me do it."

It was Gullett who was the brave man.

We took a bottle of Cointreau and a sweet cake as a gift to any
battalion mess we might find in the ramparts, and were sorry for
ourselves when we failed to find it, nor, for a long time, any living
soul.

Our own footsteps were the noisiest sounds as we stumbled over the
broken stones. No other footstep paced down any of those streets of
shattered houses through which we wandered with tightened nerves.
There was no movement among all those rubbish heaps of fallen masonry
and twisted iron. We were in the loneliness of a sepulcher which had
been once a fair city.

For a little while my friend and I stood in the Grande Place, not
speaking. In the deepening twilight, beneath the last flame-feathers
of the sinking sun and the first stars that glimmered in a pale sky,
the frightful beauty of the ruins put a spell upon us.

The tower of the cathedral rose high above the framework of broken
arches and single pillars, like a white rock which had been split from
end to end by a thunderbolt. A recent shell had torn out a slice so
that the top of the tower was supported only upon broken buttresses,
and the great pile was hollowed out like a decayed tooth. The Cloth
Hall was but a skeleton in stone, with immense gaunt ribs about the
dead carcass of its former majesty. Beyond, the tower of St. Mark's
was a stark ruin, which gleamed white through the darkening twilight.

We felt as men who should stand gazing upon the ruins of Westminster
Abbey, while the shadows of night crept into their dark caverns and
into their yawning chasms of chaotic masonry, with a gleam of moon
upon their riven towers and fingers of pale light touching the ribs of
isolated arches. In the spaciousness of the Grande Place at Ypres my
friend and I stood like the last men on earth in a city of buried
life.

It was almost dark now as we made our way through other streets of
rubbish heaps. Strangely enough, as I remember, many of the iron lamp-
posts had been left standing, though bent and twisted in a drunken
way, and here and there we caught the sweet whiff of flowers and
plants still growing in gardens which had not been utterly destroyed
by the daily tempest of shells, though the houses about them had been
all wrecked.

The woods below the ramparts were slashed and torn by these storms,
and in the darkness, lightened faintly by the crescent moon, we
stumbled over broken branches and innumerable shell-holes. The silence
was broken now by the roar of a gun, which sounded so loud that I
jumped sideways with the sudden shock of it. It seemed to be the
signal for our batteries, and shell after shell went rushing through
the night, with that long, menacing hiss which ends in a dull blast.

The reports of the guns and the explosions of the shells followed each
other, and mingled in an enormous tumult, echoed back by the ruins of
Ypres in hollow, reverberating thunder-strokes. The enemy was
answering back, not very fiercely yet, and from the center of the
town, in or about the Grande Place, came the noise of falling houses
or of huge blocks of stone splitting into fragments.

We groped along, scared with the sense of death around us. The first
flares of the night were being lighted by both sides above their
trenches on each side of the salient. The balls of light rose into the
velvety darkness and a moment later suffused the sky with a white
glare which faded away tremulously after half a minute.

Against the first vivid brightness of it the lines of trees along the
roads to Hooge were silhouetted as black as ink, and the fields
between Ypres and the trenches were flooded with a milky luminance.
The whole shape of the salient was revealed to us in those flashes. We
could see all those places for which our soldiers fought and died. We
stared across the fields beyond the Menin road toward the Hooge
crater, and those trenches which were battered to pieces but not
abandoned in the first battle of Ypres and the second battle.

That salient was, even then, in 1915, a graveyard of British soldiers-
-there were years to follow when many more would lie there--and as
between flash and flash the scene was revealed, I seemed to see a
great army of ghosts, the spirits of all those boys who had died on
this ground. It was the darkness, and the tumult of guns, and our
loneliness here on the ramparts, which put an edge to my nerves and
made me see unnatural things.

No wonder a sentry was startled when he saw our two figures
approaching him through a clump of trees. His words rang out like
pistol-shots.

"Halt! Who goes there?"

"Friends!" we shouted, seeing the gleam of light on a shaking bayonet.

"Come close to be recognized!" he said, and his voice was harsh.

We went close, and I for one was afraid. Young sentries sometimes shot
too soon.

"Who are you?" he asked, in a more natural voice, and when we
explained he laughed gruffly. "I never saw two strangers pass this way
before!"

He was an old soldier, "back to the army again," with Kitchener's men.
He had been in the Chitral campaign and South Africa--"Little wars
compared to this," as he said. A fine, simple man, and although a
bricklayer's laborer in private life, with a knowledge of the right
word. I was struck when he said that the German flares were more
"luminous" than ours. I could hardly see his face in the darkness,
except when he struck a match once, but his figure was black against
the illumined sky, and I watched the motion of his arm as he pointed
to the roads up which his comrades had gone to the support of another
battalion at Hooge, who were hard pressed. "They went along under a
lot of shrapnel and had many casualties."

He told the story of that night in a quiet, thoughtful way, with
phrases of almost biblical beauty in their simple truth, and the soul
of the man, the spirit of the whole army in which he was a private
soldier, was revealed when he flashed out a sentence with his one note
of fire, "But the enemy lost more than we did, sir, that night!"

We wandered away again into the darkness, with the din of the
bombardment all about us. There was not a square yard of ground
unplowed by shells and we did not nourish any false illusions as to
finding a safe spot for a bivouac.

There was no spot within the ramparts of Ypres where a man might say
"No shells will fall here." But one place we found where there seemed
some reasonable odds of safety. There also, if sleep assailed us, we
might curl up in an abandoned dugout and hope that it would not be
"crumped" before the dawn. There were several of these shelters there,
but, peering into them by the light of a match, I shuddered at the
idea of lying in one of them. They had been long out of use and there
was a foul look about the damp bedding and rugs which had been left to
rot there. They were inhabited already by half-wild cats--the
abandoned cats of Ypres, which hunted mice through the ruins of their
old houses--and they spat at me and glared with green-eyed fear as I
thrust a match into their lairs.

There were two kitchen chairs, with a deal table on which we put our
cake and Cointreau, and here, through half a night, my friend and I
sat watching and listening to that weird scene upon which the old moon
looked down; and, as two men will at such a time, we talked over all
the problems of life and death and the meaning of man's heritage.

Another sentry challenged us--all his nerves jangled at our
apparition. He was a young fellow, one of "Kitchener's crowd," and
told us frankly that he had the "jimjams" in this solitude of Ypres
and "saw Germans" every time a rat jumped. He lingered near us--"for
company.

It was becoming chilly. The dew made our clothes damp. Cake and sweet
liquor were poor provisions for the night, and the thought of hot tea
was infinitely seductive. Perhaps somewhere one might find a few
soldiers round a kettle in some friendly dugout. We groped our way
along, holding our breath at times as a shell came sweeping overhead
or burst with a sputter of steel against the ramparts. It was
profoundly dark, so that only the glowworms glittered like jewels on
black velvet. The moon had gone down, and inside Ypres the light of
the distant flares only glimmered faintly above the broken walls. In a
tunnel of darkness voices were speaking and some one was whistling
softly, and a gleam of red light made a bar across the grass. We
walked toward a group of black figures, suddenly silent at our
approach--obviously startled.

"Who's there?" said a voice.

We were just in time for tea--a stroke of luck--with a company of boys
(all Kitchener lads from the Civil Service) who were spending the
night here. They had made a fire behind a screen to give them a little
comfort and frighten off the ghosts, and gossiped with a queer sense
of humor, cynical and blasphemous, but even through their jokes there
was a yearning for the end of a business which was too close to death.

I remember the gist of their conversation, which was partly devised
for my benefit. One boy declared that he was sick of the whole
business.

"I should like to cancel my contract," he remarked.

"Yes, send in your resignation, old lad," said another, with ironical
laughter.

"They'd consider it, wouldn't they? P'raps offer a rise in wages--I
don't think!"

Another boy said, "I am a citizen of no mean Empire, but what the hell
is the Empire going to do for me when the next shell blows off both my
bleeding legs?"

This remark was also received by a gust of subdued laughter, silenced
for a moment by a roar and upheaval of masonry somewhere by the ruins
of the Cloth Hall.

"Soldiers are prisoners," said a boy without any trace of humor.
"You're lagged, and you can't escape. A 'blighty' is the best luck you
can hope for."

"I don't want to kill Germans," said a fellow with a superior accent.
"I've no personal quarrel against them; and, anyhow, I don't like
butcher's work."

"Christian service, that's what the padre calls it. I wonder if Christ
would have stuck a bayonet into a German stomach--a German with his
hands up. That's what we're asked to do."

"Oh, Christianity is out of business, my child. Why mention it? This
is war, and we're back to the primitive state--B.C. All the same, I
say my little prayers when I'm in a blue funk.

"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Look upon a little child."

This last remark was the prize joke of the evening, received with much
hilarity, not too loud, for fear of drawing fire--though really no
Germans could have heard any laughter in Ypres.

Nearby, their officer was spending the night. We called on him, and
found him sitting alone in a dugout furnished by odd bits from the
wrecked houses, with waxen flowers in a glass case on the shelf, and
an old cottage clock which ticked out the night, and a velvet armchair
which had been the pride of a Flemish home. He was a Devonshire lad,
with a pale, thoughtful face, and I was sorry for him in his
loneliness, with a roof over his head which would be no proof against
a fair-sized shell.

He expressed no surprise at seeing us. I think he would not have been
surprised if the ghost of Edward the Black Prince had called on him.
He would have greeted him with the same politeness and offered him his
green armchair.

The night passed. The guns slackened down before the dawn. For a
little while there was almost silence, even over the trenches. But as
the first faint glow of dawn crept through the darkness the rifle-fire
burst out again feverishly, and the machine-guns clucked with new
spasms of ferocity. The boys of the New Army, and the Germans facing
them, had an attack of the nerves, as always at that hour.

The flares were still rising, but had the debauched look of belated
fireworks after a night of orgy.

In a distant field a cock crew.

The dawn lightened all the sky, and the shadows crept away from the
ruins of Ypres, and all the ghastly wreckage of the city was revealed
again nakedly. Then the guns ceased for a while, and there was
quietude in the trenches, and out of Ypres, sneaking by side ways,
went two tired figures, padding the hoof with a slouching swiftness to
escape the early morning "hate" which was sure to come as soon as a
clock in Vlamertinghe still working in a ruined tower chimed the hour
of six.

I went through Ypres scores of times afterward, and during the battles
of Flanders saw it day by day as columns of men and guns and pack-
mules and transports went up toward the ridge which led at last to
Passchendaele. We had big guns in the ruins of Ypres, and round about,
and they fired with violent concussions which shook loose stones, and
their flashes were red through the Flanders mist. Always this capital
of the battlefields was sinister, with the sense of menace about.

"Steel helmets to be worn. Gas-masks at the alert."

So said the traffic man at the crossroads.

As one strapped on one's steel helmet and shortened the strap of one's
gas-mask, the spirit of Ypres touched one's soul icily.




IX


The worst school of war for the sons of gentlemen was, in those early
days, and for long afterward, Hooge. That was the devil's playground
and his chamber of horrors, wherein he devised merry tortures for
young Christian men. It was not far out of Ypres, to the left of the
Menin road, and to the north of Zouave Wood and Sanctuary Wood. For a
time there was a chateau there called the White Chateau, with
excellent stables and good accommodation for one of our brigade
staffs, until one of our generals was killed and others wounded by a
shell, which broke up their conference. Afterward there was no
chateau, but only a rubble of bricks banked up with sandbags and deep
mine-craters filled with stinking water slopping over from the
Bellewarde Lake and low-lying pools. Bodies, and bits of bodies, and
clots of blood, and green metallic-looking slime, made by explosive
gases, were floating on the surface of that water below the crater
banks when I first passed that way, and so it was always. Our men
lived there and died there within a few yards of the enemy, crouched
below the sand-bags and burrowed in the sides of the crater. Lice
crawled over them in legions. Human flesh, rotting and stinking, mere
pulp, was pasted into the mud-banks. If they dug to get deeper cover
their shovels went into the softness of dead bodies who had been their
comrades. Scraps of flesh, booted legs, blackened hands, eyeless
heads, came falling over them when the enemy trench-mortared their
position or blew up a new mine-shaft.

I remember one young Irish officer who came down to bur quarters on a
brief respite from commanding the garrison at Hooge. He was a handsome
fellow, like young Philip of Spain by Velasquez, and he had a profound
melancholy in his eyes in spite of a charming smile.

"Do you mind if I have a bath before I join you?" he asked.

He walked about in the open air until the bath was ready. Even there a
strong, fetid smell came from him.

"Hooge," he said, in a thoughtful way, "is not a health resort."

He was more cheerful after his bath and did not feel quite such a
leper. He told one or two stories about the things that happened at
Hooge, and I wondered if hell could be so bad. After a short stay he
went back again, and I could see that he expected to be killed. Before
saying good-by he touched some flowers on the mess-table, and for a
moment or two listened to birds twittering in the trees.

"Thanks very much," he said. "I've enjoyed this visit a good deal . .
. Good-by."

He went back through Ypres on the way to Hooge, and the mine-crater
where his Irish soldiers were lying in slime, in which vermin crawled.

Sometimes it was the enemy who mined under our position, blowing a few
men to bits and scattering the sand-bags. Sometimes it was our men who
upheaved the earth beyond them by mine charges and rushed the new
crater.

It was in July of '15 that the devils of Hooge became merry and bright
with increased activity. The Germans had taken possession of one of
the mine-craters which formed the apex of a triangle across the Menin
road, with trenches running down to it on either side, so that it was
like the spear-head of their position. They had fortified it with
sand-bags and crammed it with machine--guns which could sweep the
ground on three sides, so making a direct attack by infantry a
suicidal enterprise. Our trenches immediately faced this stronghold
from the other side of a road at right angles with the Menin road, and
our men--the New Army boys--were shelled day and night, so that many
of them were torn to pieces, and others buried alive, and others sent
mad by shell-shock. (They were learning their lessons in the school of
courage.) It was decided by a conference of generals, not at Hooge, to
clear out this hornets' nest, and the job was given to the sappers,
who mined under the roadway toward the redoubt, while our heavy
artillery shelled the enemy's position all around the neighborhood.

On July 22d the mine was exploded, while our men crouched low,
horribly afraid after hours of suspense. The earth was rent asunder by
a gust of flame, and vomited up a tumult of soil and stones and human
limbs and bodies. Our men still crouched while these things fell upon
them.

"I thought I had been blown to bits," one of them told me. "I was a
quaking fear, with my head in the earth. I kept saying, 'Christ! . . .
Christ!'"

When the earth and smoke had settled again it was seen that the
enemy's redoubt had ceased to exist. In its place, where there had
been a crisscross of trenches and sand-bag shelters for their machine-
guns and a network of barbed wire, there was now an enormous crater,
hollowed deep with shelving sides surrounded by tumbled earth heaps
which had blocked up the enemy's trenches on either side of the
position, so that they could not rush into the cavern and take
possession. It was our men who "rushed" the crater and lay there
panting in its smoking soil.

Our generals had asked for trouble when they destroyed that redoubt,
and our men had it. Infuriated by a massacre of their garrison in the
mine-explosion and by the loss of their spear-head, the Germans kept
up a furious bombardment on our trenches in that neighborhood in
bursts of gun-fire which tossed our earthworks about and killed and
wounded many men. Our line at Hooge at that time was held by the
King's Royal Rifles of the 14th Division, young fellows, not far
advanced in the training-school of war. They held on under the gunning
of their positions, and each man among them wondered whether it was
the shell screeching overhead or the next which would smash him into
pulp like those bodies lying nearby in dugouts and upheaved
earthworks.

On the morning of July 30th there was a strange lull of silence after
a heavy bout of shells and mortars. Men of the K. R. R. raised their
heads above broken parapets and crawled out of shell-holes and looked
about. There were many dead bodies lying around, and wounded men were
wailing. The unwounded, startled by the silence, became aware of some
moisture falling on them; thick, oily drops of liquid.

"What in hell's name--?" said a subaltern.

One man smelled his clothes, which reeked of something like paraffin.

Coming across from the German trenches were men hunched up under some
heavy weights. They were carrying cylinders with nozles like hose-
pipes. Suddenly there was a rushing noise like an escape of air from
some blast-furnace. Long tongues of flame licked across to the broken
ground where the King's Royal Rifles lay.

Some of them were set on fire, their clothes burning on them, making
them living torches, and in a second or two cinders.

It was a new horror of war--the Flammenwerfer.

Some of the men leaped to their feet, cursing, and fired repeatedly at
the Germans carrying the flaming jets. Here and there the shots were
true. A man hunched under a cylinder exploded like a fat moth caught
in a candle-flame. But that advancing line of fire after the long
bombardment was too much for the rank and file, whose clothes were
smoking and whose bodies were scorched. In something like a panic they
fell back, abandoning the cratered ground in which their dead lay.

The news of this disaster and of the new horror reached the troops in
reserve, who had been resting in the rear after a long spell. They
moved up at once to support their comrades and make a counter-attack.
The ground they had to cover was swept by machine-guns, and many fell,
but the others attacked again and again, regardless of their losses,
and won back part of the lost ground, leaving only a depth of five
hundred yards in the enemy's hands.

So the position remained until the morning of August 9th, when a new
attack was begun by the Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Midland
troops of the 6th Division, who had been long in the salient and had
proved the quality of northern "grit" in the foul places and the foul
weather of that region.

It was late on the night of August 8th that these battalions took up
their position, ready for the assault. These men, who came mostly from
mines and workshops, were hard and steady and did not show any outward
sign of nervousness, though they knew well enough that before the
light of another day came their numbers would have passed through the
lottery of this game of death. Each man's life depended on no more
than a fluke of luck by the throw of those dice which explode as they
fall. They knew what their job was. It was to cross five hundred yards
of open ground to capture and to hold a certain part of the German
position near the Chateau of Hooge.

They were at the apex of the triangle which made a German salient
after the ground was lost, on July 30th. On the left side of the
triangle was Zouave Wood, and Sanctuary Wood ran up the right side to
a strong fort held by the enemy and crammed with machine-guns and
every kind of bomb. The base of the upturned triangle was made by the
Menin road, to the north, beyond which lay the crater, the chateau,
and the stables.

The way that lay between the regiment and their goal was not an easy
one to pass. It was cut and crosscut by our old trenches, now held by
the enemy, who had made tangles of barbed wire in front of their
parapets, and had placed machine-guns at various points. The ground
was littered with dead bodies belonging to the battle of July 30th,
and pock-marked by deep shell-holes. To cross five hundred yards of
such ground in the storm of the enemy's fire would be an ordeal
greater than that of rushing from one trench to another. It would have
to be done in regular attack formation, and with the best of luck
would be a grim and costly progress.

The night was pitch dark. The men drawn up could only see one another
as shadows blacker than the night. They were very quiet; each man was
fighting down his fear in his soul, trying to get a grip on nerves
hideously strained by the rack of this suspense. The words, "Steady,
lads." were spoken down the ranks by young lieutenants and sergeants.
The sounds of men whispering, a cough here and there, a word of
command, the clink of bayonets, the cracking of twigs under heavy
boots, the shuffle of troops getting into line, would not carry with
any loudness to German ears.

The men deployed before dawn broke, waiting for the preliminary
bombardment which would smash a way for them. The officers struck
matches now and then to glance at their wrist-watches, set very
carefully to those of the gunners. Then our artillery burst forth with
an enormous violence of shell-fire, so that the night was shattered
with the tumult of it. Guns of every caliber mingled their explosions,
and the long screech of the shells rushed through the air as though
thousands of engines were chasing one another madly through a vast
junction in that black vault.

The men listened and waited. As soon as the guns lengthened their
fuses the infantry advance would begin. Their nerves were getting
jangled. It was just the torture of human animals. There was an
indrawing of breath when suddenly the enemy began to fire rockets,
sending up flares which made white waves of light. If they were seen!
There would be a shambles.

But the smoke of all the bursting shells rolled up in a thick veil,
hiding those mining lads who stared toward the illuminations above the
black vapors and at the flashes which seemed to stab great rents in
the pall of smoke. "It was a jumpy moment," said the colonel of the
Durhams, and the moment lengthened into minutes.

Then the time came. The watch hands pointed to the second which had
been given for the assault to begin, and instantly, to the tick, the
guns lifted and made a curtain of fire round the Chateau of Hooge,
beyond the Menin road, six hundred yards away.

"Time!"

The company officers blew their whistles, and there was a sudden
clatter from trench-spades slung to rifle-barrels, and from men
girdled with hand-grenades, as the advancing companies deployed and
made their first rush forward. The ground had been churned up by our
shells, and the trenches had been battered into shapelessness, strewn
with broken wire and heaps of loose stones and fragments of steel.

It seemed impossible that any German should be left alive in this
quagmire, but there was still a rattle of machine-guns from holes and
hillocks. Not for long. The bombing-parties searched and found them,
and silenced them. From the heaps of earth which had once been
trenches German soldiers rose and staggered in a dazed, drunken way,
stupefied by the bombardment beneath which they had crouched.

Our men spitted them on their bayonets or hurled hand-grenades, and
swept the ground before them. Some Germans screeched like pigs in a
slaughter-house.

The men went on in short rushes. They were across the Menin road now,
and were first to the crater, though other troops were advancing
quickly from the left. They went down into the crater, shouting
hoarsely, and hurling bombs at Germans, who were caught like rats in a
trap, and scurried up the steep sides beyond, firing before rolling
down again, until at least two hundred bodies lay dead at the bottom
of this pit of hell.

While some of the men dug themselves into the crater or held the
dugouts already made by the enemy, others climbed up to the ridge
beyond and with a final rush, almost winded and spent, reached the
extreme limit of their line of assault and achieved the task which had
been set them. They were mad now, not human in their senses. They saw
red through bloodshot eyes. They were beasts of prey--these decent
Yorkshire lads.

Round the stables themselves three hundred Germans were bayoneted,
until not a single enemy lived on this ground, and the light of day on
that 9th of August revealed a bloody and terrible scene, not decent
for words to tell. Not decent, but a shambles of human flesh which had
been a panic-stricken crowd of living men crying for mercy, with that
dreadful screech of terror from German boys who saw the white gleam of
steel at their stomachs before they were spitted. Not many of those
Durham and Yorkshire lads remain alive now with that memory. The few
who do must have thrust it out of their vision, unless at night it
haunts them.

The assaulting battalion had lost many men during the assault, but
their main ordeal came after the first advance, when the German guns
belched out a large quantity of heavy shells from the direction of
Hill 60. They raked the ground, and tried to make our men yield the
position they had gained. But they would not go back or crawl away
from their dead.

All through the day the bombardment continued, answered from our side
by fourteen hours of concentrated fire, which I watched from our
battery positions. In spite of the difficulties of getting up supplies
through the "crumped" trenches, the men held on and consolidated their
positions. One of the most astounding feats was done by the sappers,
who put up barbed wire beyond the line under a devilish cannonade.

A telephone operator had had his apparatus smashed by a shell early in
the action, and worked his way back to get another. He succeeded in
reaching the advanced line again, but another shell knocked out his
second instrument. It was then only possible to keep in touch with the
battalion headquarters by means of messengers, and again and again
officers and men made their way across the zone of fire or died in the
attempt. Messages reached the colonel of the regiment that part of his
front trenches had been blown away.

From other parts of the line reports came in that the enemy was
preparing a counter-attack. For several hours now the colonel of the
Durhams could not get into touch with his companies, isolated and
hidden beneath the smoke of the shell-bursts. Flag-wagging and
heliographing were out of the question. He could not tell even if a
single man remained alive out there beneath all those shells. No word
came from them now to let him know if the enemy were counter-
attacking.

Early in the afternoon he decided to go out and make his own
reconnaissance. The bombardment was still relentless, and it was only
possible to go part of the way in an old communication trench. The
ground about was littered with the dead, still being blown about by
high explosives.

The soul of the colonel was heavy then with doubt and with the
knowledge that most of the dead here were his own. When he told me
this adventure his only comment was the soldier's phrase, "It was not
what might be called a 'healthy' place." He could see no sign of a
counter-attack, but, straining through the smoke-clouds, his eyes
could detect no sign of life where his men had been holding the
captured lines. Were they all dead out there?

On Monday night the colonel was told that his battalion would be
relieved, and managed to send this order to a part of it. It was sent
through by various routes, but some men who carried it came back with
the news that it was still impossible to get into touch with the
companies holding the advanced positions above the Menin road.

In trying to do so they had had astounding escapes. Several of them
had been blown as far as ten yards by the air-pressure of exploding
shells and had been buried in the scatter of earth.

"When at last my men came back--those of them who had received the
order," said the colonel, "I knew the price of their achievement--its
cost in officers and men." He spoke as a man resentful of that bloody
sacrifice.

There were other men still alive and still holding on. With some of
them were four young officers, who clung to their ground all through
the next night, before being relieved. They were without a drop of
water and suffered the extreme miseries of the battlefield.

There was no distinction in courage between those four men, but the
greater share of suffering was borne by one. Early in the day he had
had his jaw broken by a piece of shell, but still led his men. Later
in the day he was wounded in the shoulder and leg, but kept his
command, and he was still leading the survivors of his company when he
came back on the morning of Tuesday, August 10th.

Another party of men had even a longer time of trial. They were under
the command of a lance-corporal, who had gained possession of the
stables above the Menin road and now defended their ruins. During the
previous twenty-four hours he had managed to send through several
messages, but they were not to report his exposed position nor to ask
for supports nor to request relief. What he said each time was, "Send
us more bombs." It was only at seven-thirty in the morning of Tuesday,
after thirty hours under shell-fire, that the survivors came away from
their rubbish heap in the lines of death.

So it was at Hooge on that day of August. I talked with these men,
touched hands with them while the mud and blood of the business still
fouled them. Even now, in remembrance, I wonder how men could go
through such hours without having on their faces more traces of their
hell, though some of them were still shaking with a kind of ague.




X


Here and there on the roadsides behind the lines queer sacks hung from
wooden poles. They had round, red disks painted on them, and looked
like the trunks of human bodies after Red Indians had been doing
decorative work with their enemy's slain. At Flixecourt, near Amiens,
I passed one on a Sunday when bells were ringing for high mass and a
crowd of young soldiers were trooping into the field with fixed
bayonets.

A friend of mine--an ironical fellow--nudged me, and said, "Sunday-
school for young Christians!" and made a hideous face, very comical.

It was a bayonet-school of instruction, and "O. C. Bayonets"--Col.
Ronald Campbell--was giving a little demonstration. It was a curiously
interesting form of exercise. It was as though the primitive nature in
man, which had been sleeping through the centuries, was suddenly
awakened in the souls of these cockney soldier--boys. They made sudden
jabs at one another fiercely and with savage grimaces, leaped at men
standing with their backs turned, who wheeled round sharply, and
crossed bayonets, and taunted the attackers. Then they lunged at the
hanging sacks, stabbing them where the red circles were painted. These
inanimate things became revoltingly lifelike as they jerked to and
fro, and the bayonet men seemed enraged with them. One fell from the
rope, and a boy sprang at it, dug his bayonet in, put his foot on the
prostrate thing to get a purchase for the bayonet, which he lugged out
again, and then kicked the sack.

"That's what I like to see," said an officer. "There's a fine
fighting-spirit in that lad. He'll kill plenty of Germans before he's
done."

Col. Ronald Campbell was a great lecturer on bayonet exercise. He
curdled the blood of boys with his eloquence on the method of attack
to pierce liver and lights and kidneys of the enemy. He made their
eyes bulge out of their heads, fired them with blood-lust, stoked up
hatred of Germans--all in a quiet, earnest, persuasive voice, and a
sense of latent power and passion in him. He told funny stories--one,
famous in the army, called "Where's 'Arry?"

It was the story of an attack on German trenches in which a crowd of
Germans were captured in a dugout. The sergeant had been told to blood
his men, and during the killing he turned round and asked, "Where's
'Arry? . . . 'Arry 'asn't 'ad a go yet."

'Arry was a timid boy, who shrank from butcher's work, but he was
called up and given his man to kill. And after that 'Arry was like a
man-eating tiger in his desire for German blood.

He used another illustration in his bayonet lectures. "You may meet a
German who says, 'Mercy! I have ten children.' . . . Kill him! He
might have ten more."

At those training-schools of British youth (when nature was averse to
human slaughter until very scientifically trained) one might see every
form of instruction in every kind of weapon and instrument of death--
machine-guns, trench-mortars, bombs, torpedoes, gas, and, later on,
tanks; and as the months passed, and the years, the youth of the
British Empire graduated in these schools of war, and those who lived
longest were experts in divers branches of technical education.

Col. Ronald Campbell retired from bayonet instruction and devoted his
genius and his heart (which was bigger than the point of a bayonet) to
the physical instruction of the army and the recuperation of battle-
worn men. I liked him better in that job, and saw the real imagination
of the man at work, and his amazing, self-taught knowledge of
psychology. When men came down from the trenches, dazed, sullen,
stupid, dismal, broken, he set to work to build up their vitality
again, to get them interested in life again, and to make them keen and
alert. As they had been dehumanized by war, so he rehumanized them by
natural means. He had a farm, with flowers and vegetables, pigs,
poultry, and queer beasts. A tame bear named Flanagan was the comic
character of the camp. Colonel Campbell found a thousand qualities of
character in this animal, and brought laughter back to gloomy boys by
his description of them. He had names for many of his pets--the game-
cocks and the mother-hens; and he taught the men to know each one, and
to rear chicks, and tend flowers, and grow vegetables. Love, and not
hate, was now his gospel. All his training was done by games, simple
games arousing intelligence, leading up to elaborate games demanding
skill of hand and eye. He challenged the whole army system of
discipline imposed by authority by a new system of self-discipline
based upon interest and instinct. His results were startling, and men
who had been dumb, blear-eyed, dejected, shell-shocked wrecks of life
were changed quite quickly into bright, cheery fellows, with laughter
in their eyes.

"It's a pity," he said, "they have to go off again and be shot to
pieces. I cure them only to be killed--but that's not my fault. It's
the fault of war."

It was Colonel Campbell who discovered "Willie Woodbine," the fighting
parson and soldier's poet, who was the leading member of a traveling
troupe of thick-eared thugs. They gave pugilistic entertainments to
tired men. Each of them had one thick ear. Willie Woodbine had two.
They fought one another with science (as old professionals) and
challenged any man in the crowd. Then one of them played the violin
and drew the soul out of soldiers who seemed mere animals, and after
another fight Willie Woodbine stepped up and talked of God, and war,
and the weakness of men, and the meaning of courage. He held all those
fellows in his hand, put a spell on them, kept them excited by a new
revelation, gave them, poor devils, an extra touch of courage to face
the menace that was ahead of them when they went to the trenches
again.




XI


Our men were not always in the trenches. As the New Army grew in
numbers reliefs were more frequent than in the old days, when
battalions held the line for long spells, until their souls as well as
their bodies were sunk in squalor. Now in the summer of 1915 it was
not usual for men to stay in the line for more than three weeks at a
stretch, and they came back to camps and billets, where there was more
sense of life, though still the chance of death from long-range guns.
Farther back still, as far back as the coast, and all the way between
the sea and the edge of war, there were new battalions quartered in
French and Flemish villages, so that every cottage and farmstead,
villa, and chateau was inhabited by men in khaki, who made themselves
at home and established friendly relations with civilians there unless
they were too flagrant in their robbery, or too sour in their temper,
or too filthy in their habits. Generally the British troops were
popular in Picardy and Artois, and when they left women kissed and
cried, in spite of laughter, and joked in a queer jargon of English-
French. In the estaminets of France and Flanders they danced with
frowzy peasant girls to the tune of a penny-in-the-slot piano, or,
failing the girls, danced with one another.

For many years to come, perhaps for centuries, those cottages and
barns into which our men crowded will retain signs and memories of
that British occupation in the great war. Boys who afterward went
forward to the fighting-fields and stepped across the line to the
world of ghosts carved their names on wooden beams, and on the
whitewashed walls scribbled legends proclaiming that Private John
Johnson was a bastard; or that a certain battalion was a rabble of
ruffians; or that Kaiser Bill would die on the gallows, illustrating
those remarks with portraits and allegorical devices, sketchily drawn,
but vivid and significant.

The soldier in the house learned quite a lot of French, with which he
made his needs understood by the elderly woman who cooked for his
officers' mess. He could say, with a fine fluency, "Ou est le blooming
couteau?" or "Donnez-moi le bally fourchette, s'il vous plait,
madame." It was not beyond his vocabulary to explain that "Les pommes
de terre frites are absolument all right if only madame will tenir ses
cheveux on." In the courtyards of ancient farmhouses, so old in their
timbers and gables that the Scottish bodyguard of Louis XI may have
passed them on their way to Paris, modern Scots with khaki-covered
kilts pumped up the water from old wells, and whistled "I Know a
Lassie" to the girl who brought the cattle home, and munched their
evening rations while Sandy played a "wee bit" on the pipes to the
peasant--folk who gathered at the gate. Such good relations existed
between the cottagers and their temporary guests that one day, for
instance, when a young friend of mine came back from a long spell in
the trenches (his conversation was of dead men, flies, bombs, lice,
and hell), the old lady who had given him her best bedroom at the
beginning of the war flung her arms about him and greeted him like a
long-lost son. To a young Guardsman, with his undeveloped mustache on
his upper lip, her demonstrations were embarrassing.

It was one of the paradoxes of the war that beauty lived but a mile or
two away from hideous squalor. While men in the lines lived in dugouts
and marched down communicating trenches thigh-high, after rainy
weather, in mud and water, and suffered the beastliness of the
primitive earth-men, those who were out of the trenches, turn and turn
about, came back to leafy villages and drilled in fields all golden
with buttercups, and were not too uncomfortable in spite of
overcrowding in dirty barns.



There was more than comfort in some of the headquarters where our
officers were billeted in French chateaux. There was a splendor of
surroundings which gave a graciousness and elegance to the daily life
of that extraordinary war in which men fought as brutally as in
prehistoric times. I knew scores of such places, and went through
gilded gates emblazoned with noble coats of arms belonging to the days
of the Sun King, or farther back to the Valois, and on my visits to
generals and their staffs stood on long flights of steps which led up
to old mansions, with many towers and turrets, surrounded by noble
parks and ornamental waters and deep barns in which five centuries of
harvests had been stored. From one of the archways here one might see
in the mind's eye Mme. de Pompadour come out with a hawk on her wrist,
or even Henri de Navarre with his gentlemen-at-arms, all their plumes
alight in the sun as they mounted their horses for a morning's boar-
hunt.

It was surprising at first when a young British officer came out and
said, "Toppin' morning," or, "Any news from the Dardanelles?" There
was something incongruous about this habitation of French chiteaux by
British officers with their war-kit. The strangeness of it made me
laugh in early days of first impressions, when I went through the
rooms of one of those old historic houses, well within range of the
German guns with a brigade major. It was the Chateau de Henencourt,
near Albert.

"This is the general's bedroom," said the brigade major, opening a
door which led off a gallery, in which many beautiful women of France
and many great nobles of the old regime looked down from their gilt
frames.

The general had a nice bed to sleep in. In such a bed Mme. du Barry
might have stretched her arms and yawned, or the beautiful Duchesse de
Mazarin might have held her morning levee. A British general, with his
bronzed face and bristly mustache, would look a little strange under
that blue-silk canopy, with rosy cherubs dancing overhead on the
flowered ceiling. His top-boots and spurs stood next to a Louis Quinze
toilet-table. His leather belts and field-glasses lay on the polished
boards beneath the tapestry on which Venus wooed Adonis and Diana went
a-hunting. In other rooms no less elegantly rose-tinted or darkly
paneled other officers had made a litter of their bags, haversacks,
rubber baths, trench--boots, and puttees. At night the staff sat down
to dinner in a salon where the portraits of a great family of France,
in silks and satins and Pompadour wigs, looked down upon their khaki.
The owner of the chateau, in whose veins flowed the blood of those old
aristocrats, was away with his regiment, in which he held the rank of
corporal. His wife, the Comtesse de Henencourt, managed the estate,
from which all the men-servants except the veterans had been
mobilized. In her own chateau she kept one room for herself, and every
morning came in from the dairies, where she had been working with her
maids, to say, with her very gracious smile, to the invaders of her
house: "Bon jour, messieurs! Ca va bien?"

She hid any fear she had under the courage of her smile. Poor chateaux
of France! German shells came to knock down their painted turrets, to
smash through the ceilings where the rosy Cupids played, and in one
hour or two to ruin the beauty that had lived through centuries of
pride.

Scores of them along the line of battle were but heaps of brick-dust
and twisted iron.

I saw the ruins of the Chateau de Henencourt two years after my first
visit there. The enemy's line had come closer to it and it was a
target for their guns. Our guns--heavy and light--were firing from the
back yard and neighboring fields, with deafening tumult. Shells had
already broken the roofs and turrets of the chateau and torn away
great chunks of wall. A colonel of artillery had his headquarters in
the petit salon. His hand trembled as he greeted me.

"I'm not fond of this place," he said. "The whole damn thing will come
down on my head at any time. I think I shall take to the cellars."

We walked out to the courtyard and he showed me the way down to the
vault. A shell came over the chateau and burst in the outhouses.

"They knocked out a 9.2 a little while ago," said the colonel. "Made a
mess of some heavy gunners."

There was a sense of imminent death about us, but it was not so
sinister a place as farther on, where a brother of mine sat in a hole
directing his battery. . . The Countess of Henencourt had gone. She
went away with her dairymaids, driving her cattle down the roads.




XII


One of the most curious little schools of courage inhabited by British
soldiers in early days was the village of Vaux-sur-Somme, which we
took over from the French, who were our next-door neighbors at the
village of Frise in the summer of '15. After the foul conditions of
the salient it seemed unreal and fantastic, with a touch of romance
not found in other places. Strange as it seemed, the village
garrisoned by our men was in advance of our trench lines, with nothing
dividing them from the enemy but a little undergrowth--and the
queerest part of it all was the sense of safety, the ridiculously
false security with which one could wander about the village and up
the footpath beyond, with the knowledge that one's movements were
being watched by German eyes and that the whole place could be blown
off the face of the earth . . . but for the convenient fact that the
Germans, who were living in the village of Curlu, beyond the footpath,
were under our own observation and at the mercy of our own guns.

That sounded like a fairy-tale to men who, in other places, could not
go over the parapet of the first-line trenches, or even put their
heads up for a single second, without risking instant death.

I stood on a hill here, with a French interpreter and one of his men.
A battalion of loyal North Lancashires was some distance away, but
after an exchange of compliments in an idyllic glade, where a party of
French soldiers lived in the friendliest juxtaposition with the
British infantry surrounding them--it was a cheery bivouac among the
trees, with the fragrance of a stew-pot mingling with the odor of
burning wood--the lieutenant insisted upon leading the way to the top
of the hill.

He made a slight detour to point out a German shell which had fallen
there without exploding, and made laughing comments upon the harmless,
futile character of those poor Germans in front of us. They did their
best to kill us, but oh, so feebly!

Yet when I took a pace toward the shell he called out, sharply, "Ne
touchez pas!" I would rather have touched a sleeping tiger than that
conical piece of metal with its unexploded possibilities, but bent low
to see the inscriptions on it, scratched by French gunners with wore
recklessness of death. Mort aux Boches was scrawled upon it between
the men's initials.

Then we came to the hill-crest and to the last of our trenches, and,
standing there, looked down upon the villages of Vaux and Curlu,
separated by a piece of marshy water. In the farthest village were the
Germans, and in the nearest, just below us down the steep cliff, our
own men. Between the two there was a narrow causeway across the marsh
and a strip of woods half a rifle-shot in length.

Behind, in a sweeping semicircle round their village and ours, were
the German trenches and the German guns. I looked into the streets of
both villages as clearly as one may see into Clovelly village from the
crest of the hill. In Vaux-sur-Somme a few British soldiers were
strolling about. One was sitting on the window-sill of a cottage,
kicking up his heels.

In the German village of Curlu the roadways were concealed by the
perspective of the houses, with their gables and chimney-stacks, so
that I could not see any passers--by. But at the top of the road,
going out of the village and standing outside the last house on the
road, was a solitary figure--a German sentry.

The French lieutenant pointed to a thin mast away from the village on
the hillside.

"Do you see that? That is their flagstaff. They hoist their flag for
victories. It wagged a good deal during the recent Russian fighting.
But lately they have not had the cheek to put it up."

This interpreter--the Baron de Rosen--laughed very heartily at that
naked pole on the hill.

Then I left him and joined our own men, and went down a steep hill
into Vaux, well outside our line of trenches, and thrust forward as an
outpost in the marsh. German eyes could see me as I walked. At any
moment those little houses about me might have been smashed into
rubbish heaps. But no shells came to disturb the waterfowl among the
reeds around.

And so it was that the life in this place was utterly abnormal, and
while the guns were silent except for long--range fire, an old-
fashioned mode of war--what the adjutant of this little outpost called
a "gentlemanly warfare," prevailed. Officers and men slept within a
few hundred yards of the enemy, and the officers wore their pajamas at
night. When a fight took place it was a chivalrous excursion, such as
Sir Walter Manny would have liked, between thirty or forty men on one
side against somewhat the same number on the other.

Our men used to steal out along the causeway which crossed the marsh--
a pathway about four feet wide, broadening out in the middle, so that
a little redoubt or blockhouse was established there, then across a
narrow drawbridge, then along the path again until they came to the
thicket which screened the German village of Curlu.

It sometimes happened that a party of Germans were creeping forward
from the other direction, in just the same way, disguised in party-
colored clothes splashed with greens and reds and browns to make them
invisible between the trees, with brown masks over their faces. Then
suddenly contact was made.

Into the silence of the wood came the sharp crack of rifles, the zip-
zip of bullets, the shouts of men who had given up the game of
invisibility. It was a sharp encounter one night when the Loyal North
Lancashires held the village of Vaux, and our men brought back many
German helmets and other trophies as proofs of victory. Then to bed in
the village, and a good night's rest, as when English knights fought
the French, not far from these fields, as chronicled in the pages of
that early war correspondent, Sir John Froissart.

All was quiet when I went along the causeway and out into the wood,
where the outposts stood listening for any crack of a twig which might
betray a German footstep. I was startled when I came suddenly upon two
men, almost invisible, against the tree-trunks. There they stood,
motionless, with their rifles ready, peering through the brushwood. If
I had followed the path on which they stood for just a little way I
should have walked into the German village. But, on the other hand, I
should not have walked back again. . . .

When I left the village, and climbed up the hill to our own trenches
again, I laughed aloud at the fantastic visit to that grim little
outpost in the marsh. If all the war had been like this it would have
been more endurable for men who had no need to hide in holes in the
earth, nor crouch for three months below ground, until an hour or two
of massacre below a storm of high explosives. In the village on the
marsh men fought at least against other men, and not against invisible
powers which belched forth death.

It was part of the French system of "keeping quiet" until the turn of
big offensives; a good system, to my mind, if not carried too far. At
Frise, next door to Vaux, in a loop of the Somme, it was carried a
little too far, with relaxed vigilance.

It was a joke of our soldiers to crawl on and through the reeds and
enter the French line and exchange souvenirs with the sentries.

"Souvenir!" said one of them one day. "Bullet--you know--cartouche.
Comprenny?"

A French poilu of Territorials, who had been dozing, sat up with a
grin and said, "Mais oui, mon vieux," and felt in his pouch for a
cartridge, and then in his pockets, and then in the magazine of the
rifle between his knees.

"Fini!" he said. "Tout fini, mon p'tit camarade."

The Germans one day made a pounce on Frise, that little village in the
loop of the Somme, and "pinched" every man of the French garrison.
There was the devil to pay, and I heard it being played to the tune of
the French soixante-quinzes, slashing over the trees.

Vaux and Curlu went the way of all French villages in the zone of war,
when the battles of the Somme began, and were blown off the map.




XIII


At a place called the Pont de Nieppe, beyond Armentieres--a most
"unhealthy" place in later years of war--a bathing establishment was
organized by officers who were as proud of their work as though they
had brought a piece of paradise to Flanders. To be fair to them, they
had done that. To any interested visitor, understanding the nobility
of their work, they exhibited a curious relic. It was the Holy Shirt
of Nieppe, which should be treasured as a memorial in our War Museum--
an object-lesson of what the great war meant to clean-living men. It
was not a saint's shirt, but had been worn by a British officer in the
trenches, and was like tens of thousands of other shirts worn by our
officers and men in the first winters of the war, neither better nor
worse, but a fair average specimen. It had been framed in a glass
case, and revealed, on its linen, the corpses of thousands of lice.
That vermin swarmed upon the bodies of all our boys who went into the
trenches and tortured them. After three days they were lousy from head
to foot. After three weeks they were walking menageries. To English
boys from clean homes, to young officers who had been brought up in
the religion of the morning tub, this was one of the worst horrors of
war. They were disgusted with themselves. Their own bodies were
revolting to them. Scores of times I have seen battalions of men just
out of battle stripping themselves and hunting in their shirts for the
foul beast. They had a technical name for this hunter's job. They
called it "chatting." They desired a bath as the hart panteth for the
water--brooks, and baths were but a mirage of the brain to men in
Flanders fields and beyond the Somme, until here and there, as at
Nieppe, officers with human sympathy organized a system by which
battalions of men could wash their bodies.

The place in Nieppe had been a jute-factory, and there were big tubs
in the sheds, and nearby was the water of the Lys. Boilers were set
going to heat the water. A battalion's shirts were put into an oven
and the lice were baked and killed. It was a splendid thing to see
scores of boys wallowing in those big tubs, six in a tub, with a bit
of soap for each. They gave little grunts and shouts of joyous
satisfaction. The cleansing water, the liquid heat, made their flesh
tingle with exquisite delight, sensuous and spiritual. They were like
children. They splashed one another, with gurgles of laughter. They
put their heads under water and came up puffing and blowing like
grampuses. Something broke in one's heart to see them, those splendid
boys whose bodies might soon be torn to tatters by chunks of steel.
One of them remembered a bit of Latin he had sung at Stonyhurst:
"Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem
dealbabor." ("Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, O Lord, and I shall
be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than
snow.")

On the other side of the lines the Germans were suffering in the same
way, lousy also, and they, too, were organizing bath-houses. After
their first retreat I saw a queer name on a wooden shed:
Entlausunganstalt. I puzzled over it a moment, and then understood. It
was a new word created out of the dirt of modern war--"Delousing
station."




XIV


It was harvest-time in the summer of '15, and Death was not the only
reaper who went about the fields, although he was busy and did not
rest even when the sun had flamed down below the belt of trees on the
far ridge, and left the world in darkness.

On a night in August two of us stood in a cornfield, silent, under the
great dome, staring up at the startling splendor of it. The red ball
just showed above the far line of single trees which were black as
charcoal on the edge of a long, straight road two miles away, and from
its furnace there were flung a million feathers of flame against the
silk-blue canopy of the evening sky. The burning colors died out in a
few minutes, and the fields darkened, and all the corn-shocks paled
until they became quite white, like rows of tents, under the harvest
moon. Another night had come in this year of war.

Up Ypres way the guns were busy, and at regular intervals the earth
trembled, and the air vibrated with dull, thunderous shocks.

"The moon's face looks full of irony to-night," said the man by my
side. "It seems to say, `What fools those creatures are down there,
spoiling their harvest-time with such a mess of blood!'"

The stars were very bright in some of those Flemish nights. I saw the
Milky Way clearly tracked across the dark desert. The Pleiades and
Orion's belt were like diamonds on black velvet. But among all these
worlds of light other stars, unknown to astronomers, appeared and
disappeared. On the road back from a French town one night I looked
Arras way, and saw what seemed a bursting planet. It fell with a
scatter of burning pieces. Then suddenly the thick cloth of the night
was rent with stabs of light, as though flashing swords were hacking
it, and a moment later a finger of white fire was traced along the
black edge of the far-off woods, so that the whole sky was brightened
for a moment and then was blotted out by a deeper darkness . . . Arras
was being shelled again, as I saw it many times in those long years of
war.

The darkness of all the towns in the war zone was rather horrible.
Their strange, intense quietude, when the guns were not at work, made
them dead, as the very spirit of a town dies on the edge of war. One
night, as on many others, I walked through one of them with a friend.
Every house was shuttered, and hardly a gleam came through any crack.
No footstep, save our own, told of life. The darkness was almost
palpable. It seemed to press against one's eyeballs like a velvet
mask. My nerves were so on edge with a sense of the uncanny silence
and invisibility that I started violently at the sound of a quiet
voice speaking three inches from my ear.

"Halte! Qui va la?"

It was a French sentry, who stood with his back to the wall of a house
in such a gulf of blackness that not even his bayonet was revealed by
a glint.

Another day of war came. The old beauty of the world was there, close
to the lines of the bronzed cornfields splashed with the scarlet of
poppies, and the pale yellow of the newly cut sheaves, stretching away
and away, without the break of a hedge, to the last slopes which met
the sky.

I stood in some of those harvest-fields, staring across to a slope of
rising ground where there was no ripening wheat, and where the grass
itself came to a sudden halt, as though afraid of something. I knew
the reason of this, and of the long white lines of earth thrown up for
miles each way. Those were the parapets of German trenches, and in the
ditches below them were earth-men, armed with deadly weapons, staring
out across the beauty of France and wondering, perhaps, why they
should be there to mar it, and watching me, a little black dot in
their range of vision, with an idle thought as to whether it were
worth their while to let a bullet loose and end my walk. They could
have done so easily, but did not bother. No shot or shell came to
break through the hum of bees or to crash through the sigh of the
wind, which was bending all the ears of corn to listen to the
murmurous insect-life in these fields of France.

Close to me was a group of peasants--a study for a painter like
Millet. One of them shouted out to me, "Voilą les Boches!" waving his
arm to left and right, and then shaking a clenched fist at them.

A sturdy girl with a brown throat showing through an open bodice
munched an apple, like Audrey in "As You Like It," and between her
bites told me that she had had a brother killed in the war, and that
she had been nearly killed herself, a week ago, by shells that came
bursting all round her as she was tying up her sheaves (she pointed to
great holes in the field), and described the coming of the Germans
into her village over there, when she had lied to some Uhlans about
the whereabouts of French soldiers and had given one of those fat
Germans a blow on the face when he had tried to make love to her in
her father's barn. Her mother had been raped.

In further fields out of view of the German trenches, but well within
shell-range, the harvesting was being done by French soldiers. One of
them was driving the reaping--machine and looked like a gunner on his
limber, with his kepi thrust to the back of his head. The trousers of
his comrades were as red as the poppies that grew on the edge of the
wheat, and three of these poilus had ceased their work to drink out of
a leather wine-bottle which had been replenished from a hand-cart. It
was a pretty scene if one could forget the grim purpose which had put
those harvesters in uniform.

The same thought was in the mind of a British officer.

"A beautiful country, this," he said. "It's a pity to cut it up with
trenches and barbed wire."

Battalions of New Army men were being reviewed but a furlong or two
away from that Invisible Man who was wielding a scythe which had no
mercy for unripe wheat. Out of those lines of eyes stared the courage
of men's souls, not shirking the next ordeal.

It was through red ears of corn, in that summer of '15, that one found
one's way to many of the trenches that marked the boundary-lines of
the year's harvesting, and in Belgium (by Kemmel Hill) the shells of
our batteries, answered by German guns, came with their long-drawn
howls of murder across the heads of peasant women who were gleaning,
with bent backs.

In Plug Street Wood the trees had worn thin under showers of shrapnel,
but the long avenues between the trenches were cool and pleasant in
the heat of the day. It was one of the elementary schools where many
of our soldiers learned the A B C of actual warfare after their
training in camps behind the lines. Here one might sport with
Amaryllis in the shade, but for the fact that country wenches were not
allowed in the dugouts and trenches, where I found our soldiers
killing flies in the intervals between pot-shots at German periscopes.

The enemy was engaged, presumably, in the same pursuit of killing time
and life (with luck), and sniping was hot on both sides, so that the
wood resounded with sharp reports as though hard filbert nuts were
being cracked by giant teeth. Each time I went there one of our men
was hit by a sniper, and his body was carried off for burial as I went
toward the first line of trenches, hoping that my shadow would not
fall across a German periscope. The sight of that dead body passing
chilled one a little. There were many graves in the bosky arbors--
eighteen under one mound--but some of those who had fallen six months
before still lay where the gleaners could not reach them.

I used to peer through the leaves of Plug Street Wood at No Man's Land
between the lines, where every creature had been killed by the
sweeping flail of machine-guns and shrapnel. Along the harvest-fields
there were many barren territories like that, and up by Hooge, along
the edge of the fatal crater, and behind the stripped trees of Zouave
Wood there was no other gleaning to be had but that of broken shells
and shrapnel bullets and a litter of limbs.




XV


For some time the War Office would not allow military bands at the
front, not understanding that music was like water to parched souls.
By degrees divisional generals realized the utter need of
entertainment among men dulled and dazed by the routine of war, and
encouraged "variety" shows, organized by young officers who had been
amateur actors before the war, who searched around for likely talent.
There was plenty of it in the New Army, including professional "funny
men," trick cyclists, conjurers, and singers of all kinds. So by the
summer of '15 most of the divisions had their dramatic entertainments:
"The Follies," "The Bow Bells," "The Jocks," "The Pip-Squeaks," "The
Whizz-Bangs," "The Diamonds," "The Brass Hats," "The Verey Lights,"
and many others with fancy names.

I remember going to one of the first of them in the village of Acheux,
a few miles from the German lines. It was held in an old sugar-
factory, and I shall long remember the impressions of the place, with
seven or eight hundred men sitting in the gloom of that big, broken,
barn-like building, where strange bits of machinery looked through the
darkness, and where through gashes in the walls stars twinkled.

There was a smell of clay and moist sugar and tarpaulins and damp
khaki, and chloride of lime, very pungent in one's nostrils, and when
the curtain went up on a well--fitted stage and "The Follies" began
their performance, the squalor of the place did not matter. What
mattered was the enormous whimsicality of the Bombardier at the piano,
and the outrageous comicality of a tousle-haired soldier with a red
nose, who described how he had run away from Mons "with the rest of
you," and the light--heartedness of a performance which could have
gone straight to a London music-hall and brought down the house with
jokes and songs made up in dugouts and front--line trenches.

At first the audience sat silent, with glazed eyes. It was difficult
to get a laugh out of them. The mud of the trenches was still on them.
They stank of the trenches, and the stench was in their souls.
Presently they began to brighten up. Life came back into their eyes.
They laughed! . . . Later, from this audience of soldiers there were
yells of laughter, though the effect of shells arriving at unexpected
moments, in untoward circumstances, was a favorite theme of the
jesters. Many of the men were going into the trenches that night
again, and there would be no fun in the noise of the shells, but they
went more gaily and with stronger hearts, I am sure, because of the
laughter which had roared through the old sugar--factory.

A night or two later I went to another concert and heard the same
gaiety of men who had been through a year of war. It was in an open
field, under a velvety sky studded with innumerable stars. Nearly a
thousand soldiers trooped through the gates and massed before the
little canvas theater. In front a small crowd of Flemish children
squatted on the grass, not understanding a word of the jokes, but
laughing in shrill delight at the antics of soldier-Pierrots. The
corner-man was a funny fellow, and his by-play with a stout Flemish
woman round the flap of the canvas screen, to whom he made amorous
advances while his comrades were singing sentimental ballads, was
truly comic. The hit of the evening was when an Australian behind the
stage gave an unexpected imitation of a laughing-jackass.

There was something indescribably weird and wild and grotesque in that
prolonged cry of cackling, unnatural mirth. An Australian by my side
said: "Well done! Exactly right!" and the Flemish children shrieked
with joy, without understanding the meaning of the noise. Old, old
songs belonging to the early Victorian age were given by the soldiers,
who had great emotion and broke down sometimes in the middle of a
verse. There were funny men dressed in the Widow Twankey style, or in
burlesque uniforms, who were greeted with yells of laughter by their
comrades. An Australian giant played some clever card tricks, and
another Australian recited Kipling's "Gunga Din" with splendid fire.
And between every "turn" the soldiers in the field roared out a
chorus:

"Jolly good song, Jolly well sung. If you can think of a better you're
welcome to try. But don't forget the singer is dry; Give the poor
beggar some beer!"

A touring company of mouth-organ musicians was having a great success
in the war zone. But, apart from all those organized methods of mirth,
there was a funny man in every billet who played the part of court
jester, and clowned it whatever the state of the weather or the risks
of war. The British soldier would have his game of "house" or "crown
and anchor" even on the edge of the shell-storm, and his little bit of
sport wherever there was room to stretch his legs. It was a jesting
army (though some of its jokes were very grim), and those who saw, as
I did, the daily tragedy of war, never ceasing, always adding to the
sum of human suffering, were not likely to discourage that sense of
humor.

A successful concert with mouth-organs, combs, and tissue-paper and
penny whistles was given by the Guards in the front-line trenches near
Loos. They played old English melodies, harmonized with great emotion
and technical skill. It attracted an unexpected audience. The Germans
crowded into their front line--not far away--and applauded each
number. Presently, in good English, a German voice shouted across:

"Play 'Annie Laurie' and I will sing it."

The Guards played "Annie Laurie," and a German officer stood up on the
parapet--the evening sun was red behind him--and sang the old song
admirably, with great tenderness. There was applause on both sides.

"Let's have another concert to-morrow!" shouted the Germans.

But there was a different kind of concert next day, and the music was
played by trench-mortars, Mills bombs, rifle-grenades, and other
instruments of death in possession of the Guards. There were cries of
agony and terror from the German trenches, and young officers of the
Guards told the story as an amusing anecdote, with loud laughter.




XVI


It was astonishing how loudly one laughed at tales of gruesome things,
of war's brutality-I with the rest of them. I think at the bottom of
it was a sense of the ironical contrast between the normal ways of
civilian life and this hark-back to the caveman code. It made all our
old philosophy of life monstrously ridiculous. It played the "hat
trick" with the gentility of modern manners. Men who had been brought
up to Christian virtues, who had prattled their little prayers at
mothers' knees, who had grown up to a love of poetry, painting, music,
the gentle arts, over-sensitized to the subtleties of half-tones,
delicate scales of emotion, fastidious in their choice of words, in
their sense of beauty, found themselves compelled to live and act like
ape-men; and it was abominably funny. They laughed at the most
frightful episodes, which revealed this contrast between civilized
ethics and the old beast law. The more revolting it was the more,
sometimes, they shouted with laughter, especially in reminiscence,
when the tale was told in the gilded salon of a French chateau, or at
a mess-table.

It was, I think, the laughter of mortals at the trick which had been
played on them by an ironical fate. They had been taught to believe
that the whole object of life was to reach out to beauty and love, and
that mankind, in its progress to perfection, had killed the beast
instinct, cruelty, blood-lust, the primitive, savage law of survival
by tooth and claw and club and ax. All poetry, all art, all religion
had preached this gospel and this promise.

Now that ideal had broken like a china vase dashed to hard ground. The
contrast between That and This was devastating. It was, in an enormous
world-shaking way, like a highly dignified man in a silk hat, morning
coat, creased trousers, spats, and patent boots suddenly slipping on a
piece of orange-peel and sitting, all of a heap, with silk hat flying,
in a filthy gutter. The war-time humor of the soul roared with mirth
at the sight of all that dignity and elegance despoiled.

So we laughed merrily, I remember, when a military chaplain (Eton,
Christ Church, and Christian service) described how an English
sergeant stood round the traverse of a German trench, in a night raid,
and as the Germans came his way, thinking to escape, he cleft one
skull after another with a steel-studded bludgeon--a weapon which he
had made with loving craftsmanship on the model of Blunderbore's club
in the pictures of a fairy-tale.

So we laughed at the adventures of a young barrister (a brilliant
fellow in the Oxford "Union") whose pleasure it was to creep out o'
nights into No Man's Land and lie doggo in a shell-hole close to the
enemy's barbed wire, until presently, after an hour's waiting or two,
a German soldier would crawl out to fetch in a corpse. The English
barrister lay with his rifle ready. Where there had been one corpse
there were two. Each night he made a notch on his rifle--three notches
one night--to check the number of his victims. Then he came back to
breakfast in his dugout with a hearty appetite.

In one section of trenches the men made a habit of betting upon those
who would be wounded first. It had all the uncertainty of the
roulette-table. . . One day, when the German gunners were putting over
a special dose of hate, a sergeant kept coming to one dugout to
inquire about a "new chum," who had come up with the drafts.

"Is Private Smith all right?" he asked.

"Yes, Sergeant, he's all right," answered the men crouching in the
dark hole.

"Private Smith isn't wounded yet?" asked the, sergeant again, five
minutes later.

"No, Sergeant."

Private Smith was touched by this interest in his well-being.

"That sergeant seems a very kind man," said the boy. "Seems to love me
like a father!"

A yell of laughter answered him.

"You poor, bleeding fool!" said one of his comrades. "He's drawn you
in a lottery! Stood to win if you'd been hit."

In digging new trenches and new dugouts, bodies and bits of bodies
were unearthed, and put into sand-bags with the soil that was sent
back down a line of men concealing their work from German eyes waiting
for any new activity in our ditches.

"Bit of Bill," said the leading man, putting in a leg.

"Another bit of Bill," he said, unearthing a hand.

"Bill's ugly mug," he said at a later stage in the operations, when a
head was found.

As told afterward, that little episode in the trenches seemed
immensely comic. Generals chuckled over it. Chaplains treasured it.

How we used to guffaw at the answer of the cockney soldier who met a
German soldier with his hands up, crying: "Kamerad! Kamerad! Mercy!"

"Not so much of your 'Mercy, Kamerad,'" said the cockney. "'And us
over your bloody ticker!"

It was the man's watch he wanted, without sentiment.

One tale was most popular, most mirth-arousing in the early days of
the war.

"Where's your prisoner?" asked an Intelligence officer waiting to
receive a German sent down from the trenches under escort of an honest
corporal.

"I lost him on the way, sir," said the corporal.

"Lost him?"

The corporal was embarrassed.

"Very sorry, sir. My feelings overcame me, sir. It was like this, sir.
The man started talking on the way down. Said he was thinking of his
poor wife. I'd been thinking of mine, and I felt sorry for him. Then
he mentioned as how he had two kiddies at home. I 'ave two kiddies at
'ome, sir, and I couldn't 'elp feeling sorry for him. Then he said as
how his old mother had died awhile ago and he'd never see her again.
When he started cryin' I was so sorry for him I couldn't stand it any
longer, sir. So I killed the poor blighter."

Our men in the trenches, and out of them, up to the waist in water
sometimes, lying in slimy dugouts, lice--eaten, rat-haunted, on the
edge of mine-craters, under harassing fire, with just the fluke of
luck between life and death, seized upon any kind of joke as an excuse
for laughter, and many a time in ruins and in trenches and in dugouts
I have heard great laughter. It was the protective armor of men's
souls. They knew that if they did not laugh their courage would go and
nothing would stand between them and fear.

"You know, sir," said a sergeant-major, one day, when I walked with
him down a communication trench so waterlogged that my top-boots were
full of slime, "it doesn't do to take this war seriously."

And, as though in answer to him, a soldier without breeches and with
his shirt tied between his legs looked at me and remarked, in a
philosophical way, with just a glint of comedy in his eyes:

"That there Grand Fleet of ours don't seem to be very active, sir.
It's a pity it don't come down these blinkin' trenches and do a bit of
work!"

"Having a clean-up, my man?" said a brigadier to a soldier trying to
wash in a basin about the size of a kitchen mug.

"Yes, sir," said the man, "and I wish I was a blasted canary."

One of the most remarkable battles on the front was fought by a
battalion of Worcesters for the benefit of two English members of
Parliament. It was not a very big battle, but most dramatic while it
lasted. The colonel (who had a sense of humor) arranged it after a
telephone message to his dugout telling him that two politicians were
about to visit his battalion in the line, and asking him to show them
something interesting.

"Interesting?" said the colonel. "Do they think this war is a peep-
show for politicians? Do they want me to arrange a massacre to make a
London holiday?" Then his voice changed and he laughed. "Show them
something interesting? Oh, all right; I dare say I can do that."

He did. When the two M. P.'s arrived, apparently at the front-line
trenches, they were informed by the colonel that, much to his regret,
for their sake, the enemy was just attacking, and that his men were
defending their position desperately.

"We hope for the best," he said, "and I think there is just a chance
that you will escape with your lives if you stay here quite quietly."

"Great God!" said one of the M. P.'s, and the other was silent, but
pale.

Certainly there was all the noise of a big attack. The Worcesters were
standing-to on the fire-step, firing rifle--grenades and throwing
bombs with terrific energy. Every now and then a man fell, and the
stretcher-bearers pounced on him, tied him up in bandages, and carried
him away to the field dressing-station, whistling as they went, "We
won't go home till morning," in a most heroic way. . . The battle
lasted twenty minutes, at the end of which time the colonel announced
to his visitors:

"The attack is repulsed, and you, gentlemen, have nothing more to
fear."

One of the M. P.'s was thrilled with excitement. "The valor of your
men was marvelous," he said. "What impressed me most was the
cheerfulness of the wounded. They were actually grinning as they came
down on the stretchers."

The colonel grinned, too. In fact, he stifled a fit of coughing.
"Funny devils!" he said. "They are so glad to be going home."

The members of Parliament went away enormously impressed, but they had
not enjoyed themselves nearly as well as the Worcesters, who had
fought a sham battle--not in the front-line trenches, but in the
support trenches two miles back! They laughed for a week afterward.




XVII


On the hill at Wizerne, not far from the stately old town of St.-Omer
(visited from time to time by monstrous nightbirds who dropped high-
explosive eggs), was a large convent. There were no nuns there, but
generally some hundreds of young officers and men from many different
battalions, attending a machine-gun course under the direction of
General Baker-Carr, who was the master machine-gunner of the British
army (at a time when we were very weak in those weapons compared with
the enemy's strength) and a cheery, vital man.

"This war has produced two great dugouts," said Lord Kitchener on a
visit to the convent. "Me and Baker-Carr."

It was the boys who interested me more than the machines. (I was never
much interested in the machinery of war.) They came down from the
trenches to this school with a sense of escape from prison, and for
the ten days of their course they were like "freshers" at Oxford and
made the most of their minutes, organizing concerts and other
entertainments in the evenings after their initiation into the
mysteries of Vickers and Lewis. I was invited to dinner there one
night, and sat between two young cavalry officers on long benches
crowded with subalterns of many regiments. It was a merry meal and a
good one--to this day I remember a potato pie, gloriously baked, and
afterward, as it was the last night of the course, all the officers
went wild and indulged in a "rag" of the public-school kind. They
straddled across the benches and barged at each other in single
tourneys and jousts, riding their hobby-horses with violent rearings
and plungings and bruising one another without grievous hurt and with
yells of laughter. Glasses broke, crockery crashed upon the polished
boards. One boy danced the Highland fling on the tables, others were
waltzing down the corridors. There was a Rugby scrum in the refectory,
and hunting-men cried the "View halloo!" and shouted "Yoicks! yoicks!"
. . . General Baker-Carr was a human soul, and kept to his own room
that night and let discipline go hang. . . .

When the battles of the Somme began it was those young officers who
led their machine-gun sections into the woods of death--Belville Wood,
Mametz Wood, High Wood, and the others. It was they who afterward held
the outpost lines in Flanders. Some of them were still alive on March
21, 1918, when they were surrounded by a sea of Germans and fought
until the last, in isolated redoubts north and south of St.-Quentin.
Two of them are still alive, those between whom I sat at dinner that
night, and who escaped many close calls of death before the armistice.
Of the others who charged one another with wooden benches, their
laughter ringing out, some were blown to bits, and some were buried
alive, and some were blinded and gassed, and some went "missing" for
evermore.




XVIII


In those long days of trench warfare and stationary lines it was
boredom that was the worst malady of the mind; a large, overwhelming
boredom to thousands of men who were in exile from the normal
interests of life and from the activities of brain-work; an
intolerable, abominable boredom, sapping the will-power, the moral
code, the intellect; a boredom from which there seemed no escape
except by death, no relief except by vice, no probable or possible
change in its dreary routine. It was bad enough in the trenches, where
men looked across the parapet to the same corner of hell day by day,
to the same dead bodies rotting by the edge of the same mine-crater,
to the same old sand-bags in the enemy's line, to the blasted tree
sliced by shell-fire, the upturned railway--truck of which only the
metal remained, the distant fringe of trees like gallows on the sky-
line, the broken spire of a church which could be seen in the round O
of the telescope when the weather was not too misty. In "quiet"
sections of the line the only variation to the routine was the number
of casualties day by day, by casual shell-fire or snipers' bullets,
and that became part of the boredom. "What casualties?" asked the
adjutant in his dugout.

"Two killed, three wounded, sir."

"Very well. . . You can go."

A salute in the doorway of the dugout, a groan from the adjutant
lighting another cigarette, leaning with his elbow on the deal table,
staring at the guttering of the candle by his side, at the pile of
forms in front of him, at the glint of light on the steel helmet
hanging by its strap on a nail near the shelf where he kept his
safety-razor, flash--lamp, love-letters (in an old cigar-box), soap,
whisky--bottle (almost empty now), and an unread novel.

"Hell! . . . What a life!"

But there was always work to do, and odd incidents, and frights, and
responsibilities.

It was worse--this boredom--for men behind the lines; in lorry columns
which went from rail-head to dump every damned morning, and back again
by the middle of the morning, and then nothing else to do for all the
day, in a cramped little billet with a sulky woman in the kitchen, and
squealing children in the yard, and a stench of manure through the
small window. A dull life for an actor who had toured in England and
America (like one I met dazed and stupefied by years of boredom--
paying too much for safety), or for a barrister who had many briefs
before the war and now found his memory going, though a young man,
because of the narrow limits of his life between one Flemish village
and another, which was the length of his lorry column and of his
adventure of war. Nothing ever happened to break the monotony--not
even shell-fire. So it was also in small towns like Hesdin, St.-Pol,
Bruay, Lillers--a hundred others where officers stayed for years in
charge of motor-repair shops, ordnance-stores, labor battalions,
administration offices, claim commissions, graves' registration,
agriculture for soldiers, all kinds of jobs connected with that life
of war, but not exciting.

Not exciting. So frightful in boredom that men were tempted to take to
drink, to look around for unattached women, to gamble at cards with
any poor devil like themselves. Those were most bored who were most
virtuous. For them, with an ideal in their souls, there was no
possibility of relief (for virtue is not its own reward), unless they
were mystics, as some became, who found God good company and needed no
other help. They had rare luck, those fellows with an astounding faith
which rose above the irony and the brutality of that business being
done in the trenches, but there were few of them.

Even with hours of leisure, men who had been "bookish" could not read.
That was a common phenomenon. I could read hardly at all, for years,
and thousands were like me. The most "exciting" novel was dull stuff
up against that world convulsion. What did the romance of love mean,
the little tortures of one man's heart, or one woman's, troubled in
their mating, when thousands of men were being killed and vast
populations were in agony? History--Greek or Roman or medieval--what
was the use of reading that old stuff, now that world history was
being made with a rush? Poetry--poor poets with their love of beauty!
What did beauty matter, now that it lay dead in the soul of the world,
under the filth of battlefields, and the dirt of hate and cruelty, and
the law of the apelike man? No--we could not read; but talked and
talked about the old philosophy of life, and the structure of society,
and Democracy and Liberty and Patriotism and Internationalism, and
Brotherhood of Men, and God, and Christian ethics; and then talked no
more, because all words were futile, and just brooded and brooded,
after searching the daily paper (two days old) for any kind of hope
and light, not finding either.




XIX


At first, in the beginning of the war, our officers and men believed
that it would have a quick ending. Our first Expeditionary Force came
out to France with the cheerful shout of "Now we sha'n't be long!"
before they fell back from an advancing tide of Germans from Mons to
the Marne, and fell in their youth like autumn leaves. The New Army
boys who followed them were desperate to get out to "the great
adventure." They cursed the length of their training in English camps.
"We sha'n't get out till it's too late!" they said. Too late, O God!
Even when they had had their first spell in the trenches and came up
against German strength they kept a queer faith, for a time, that
"something" would happen to bring peace as quickly as war had come.
Peace was always coming three months ahead. Generals and staff-
officers, as well as sergeants and privates, had that strong optimism,
not based on any kind of reason; but gradually it died out, and in its
place came the awful conviction which settled upon the hearts of the
fighting-men, that this war would go on forever, that it was their
doom always to live in ditches and dugouts, and that their only way of
escape was by a "Blighty" wound or by death.

A chaplain I knew used to try to cheer up despondent boys by
pretending to have special knowledge of inside politics.

"I have it on good authority," he said, "that peace is near at hand.
There have been negotiations in Paris--"

Or:

"I don't mind telling you lads that if you get through the next scrap
you will have peace before you know where you are."

They were not believing, now. He had played that game too often.

"Old stuff, padre!" they said.

That particular crowd did not get through the next scrap. But the
padre's authority was good. They had peace long before the armistice.

It was worst of all for boys of sensitive minds who were lucky enough
to get a "cushie" wound, and so went on and on, or who were patched up
again quickly after one, two, or three wounds, and came back again. It
was a boy like that who revealed his bitterness to me one day as we
stood together in the salient.

"It's the length of the war," he said, "which does one down. At first
it seemed like a big adventure, and the excitement of it, horrible
though it was, kept one going. Even the first time I went over the top
wasn't so bad as I thought it would be. I was dazed and drunk with all
sorts of emotions, including fear, that were worse before going over.
I had what we call `the needle.' They all have it. Afterward one
didn't know what one was doing--even the killing part of the business-
-until one reached the objective and lay down and had time to think
and to count the dead about. . . Now the excitement has gone out of
it, and the war looks as though it would go on forever. At first we
all searched the papers for some hope that the end was near. We don't
do that now. We know that whenever the war ends, this year or next,
this little crowd will be mostly wiped out. Bound to be. And why are
we going to die? That's what all of us want to know. What's it all
about? Oh yes, I know the usual answers: 'In defense of liberty,' 'To
save the Empire.' But we've all lost our liberty. We're slaves under
shell-fire. And as for the Empire--I don't give a curse for it. I'm
thinking only of my little home at Streatham Hill. The horrible Hun?
I've no quarrel with the poor blighters over there by Hooge. They are
in the same bloody mess as we are. They hate it just as much. We're
all under a spell together, which some devils have put on us. I wonder
if there's a God anywhere."

This sense of being under a black spell I found expressed by other
men, and by German prisoners who used the same phrase. I remember one
of them in the battles of the Somme, who said, in good English: "This
war was not made in any sense by mankind. We are under a spell." This
belief was due, I think, to the impersonal character of modern
warfare, in which gun-fire is at so long a range that shell-fire has
the quality of natural and elemental powers of death--like
thunderbolts--and men killed twenty miles behind the lines while
walking over sunny fields or in busy villages had no thought of a
human enemy desiring their individual death.

God and Christianity raised perplexities in the minds of simple lads
desiring life and not death. They could not reconcile the Christian
precepts of the chaplain with the bayoneting of Germans and the
shambles of the battlefields. All this blood and mangled flesh in the
fields of France and Flanders seemed to them--to many of them, I know-
-a certain proof that God did not exist, or if He did exist was not,
as they were told, a God of Love, but a monster glad of the agonies of
men. That at least was the thought expressed to me by some London lads
who argued the matter with me one day, and that was the thought which
our army chaplains had to meet from men who would not be put off by
conventional words. It was not good enough to tell them that the
Germans were guilty of all this crime and that unless the Germans were
beaten the world would lose its liberty and life. "Yes, we know all
that," they said, "but why did God allow the Germans, or the statesmen
who arranged the world by force, or the clergy who christened British
warships? And how is it that both sides pray to the same God for
victory? There must be something wrong somewhere."

It was not often men talked like that, except to some chaplain who was
a human, comradely soul, some Catholic "padre" who devoted himself
fearlessly to their bodily and spiritual needs, risking his life with
them, or to some Presbyterian minister who brought them hot cocoa
under shell-fire, with a cheery word or two, as I once heard, of "Keep
your hearts up, my lads, and your heads down."

Most of the men became fatalists, with odd superstitions in the place
of faith. "It's no good worrying," they said.

"If your name is written on a German shell you can't escape it, and if
it isn't written, nothing can touch you."

Officers as well as men had this fatalistic belief and superstitions
which amused them and helped them. "Have the Huns found you out yet?"
I asked some gunner officers in a ruined farmhouse near Kemmel Hill.
"Not yet," said one of them, and then they all left the table at which
we were at lunch and, making a rush for some oak beams, embraced them
ardently. They were touching wood.

"Take this with you," said an Irish officer on a night I went to
Ypres. "It will help you as it has helped me. It's my lucky charm." He
gave me a little bit of coal which he carried in his tunic, and he was
so earnest about it that I took it without a smile and felt the safer
for it.

Once in a while the men went home on seven days' leave, or four, and
then came back again, gloomily, with a curious kind of hatred of
England because the people there seemed so callous to their suffering,
so utterly without understanding, so "damned cheerful." They hated the
smiling women in the streets. They loathed the old men who said, "If I
had six sons I would sacrifice them all in the Sacred Cause." They
desired that profiteers should die by poison-gas. They prayed God to
get the Germans to send Zeppelins to England--to make the people know
what war meant. Their leave had done them no good at all.

From a week-end at home I stood among a number of soldiers who were
going back to the front, after one of those leaves. The boat warped
away from the pier, the M. T. O. and a small group of officers,
detectives, and Red Cross men disappeared behind an empty train, and
the "revenants" on deck stared back at the cliffs of England across a
widening strip of sea.

"Back to the bloody old trenches," said a voice, and the words ended
with a hard laugh. They were spoken by a young officer of the Guards,
whom I had seen on the platform of Victoria saying good-by to a pretty
woman, who had put her hand on his shoulder for a moment, and said,
"Do be careful, Desmond, for my sake!" Afterward he had sat in the
corner of his carriage, staring with a fixed gaze at the rushing
countryside, but seeing nothing of it, perhaps, as his thoughts
traveled backward. (A few days later he was blown to bits by a bomb--
an accident of war.)

A little man on deck came up to me and said, in a melancholy way, "You
know who I am, don't you, sir?"

I hadn't the least idea who he was--this little ginger--haired soldier
with a wizened and wistful face. But I saw that he wore the claret-
colored ribbon of the V. C. on his khaki tunic. He gave me his name,
and said the papers had "done him proud," and that they had made a lot
of him at home--presentations, receptions, speeches, Lord Mayor's
addresses, cheering crowds, and all that. He was one of our Heroes,
though one couldn't tell it by the look of him.

"Now I'm going back to the trenches," he said, gloomily. "Same old
business and one of the crowd again." He was suffering from the
reaction of popular idolatry. He felt hipped because no one made a
fuss of him now or bothered about his claret-colored ribbon. The
staff-officers, chaplains, brigade majors, regimental officers, and
army nurses were more interested in an airship, a silver fish with
shining gills and a humming song in its stomach.

France . . . and the beginning of what the little V. C. had called
"the same old business." There was the long fleet of motor-ambulances
as a reminder of the ultimate business of all those young men in khaki
whom I had seen drilling in the Embankment gardens and shouldering
their way down the Strand.

Some stretchers were being carried to the lift which goes down to the
deck of the hospital-ship, on which an officer was ticking off each
wounded body after a glance at the label tied to the man's tunic.
Several young officers lay under the blankets on those stretchers and
one of them caught my eye and smiled as I looked down upon him. The
same old business and the same old pluck.

I motored down the long, straight roads of France eastward, toward
that network of lines which are the end of all journeys after a few
days' leave, home and back again. The same old sights and sounds and
smells which, as long as memory lasts, to men who had the luck to live
through the war, will haunt them for the rest of life, and speak of
Flanders.

The harvest was nearly gathered in, and where, a week or two before,
there had been fields of high, bronzed corn there were now long
stretches of stubbled ground waiting for the plow. The wheat-sheaves
had been piled into stacks or, from many great fields, carted away to
the red-roofed barns below the black old windmills whose sails were
motionless because no breath of air stirred on this September
afternoon. The smell of Flemish villages--a mingled odor of sun-baked
thatch and bakeries and manure heaps and cows and ancient vapors
stored up through the centuries--was overborne by a new and more
pungent aroma which crept over the fields with the evening haze.

It was a sad, melancholy smell, telling of corruption and death. It
was the first breath of autumn, and I shivered a little. Must there be
another winter of war? The old misery of darkness and dampness was
creeping up through the splendor of September sunshine.

Those soldiers did not seem to smell it, or, if their nostrils were
keen, to mind its menace--those soldiers who came marching down the
road, with tanned faces. How fine they looked, and how hard, and how
cheerful, with their lot! Speak to them separately and every man would
"grouse" at the duration of the war and swear that he was "fed up"
with it. Homesickness assailed them at times with a deadly nostalgia.
The hammering of shell-fire, which takes its daily toll, spoiled their
temper and shook their nerves, as far as a British soldier had any
nerves, which I used to sometimes doubt, until I saw again the shell-
shock cases.

But again I heard their laughter and an old song whistled vilely out
of tune, but cheerful to the tramp of their feet. They were going back
to the trenches after a spell in a rest-camp, to the same old business
of whizz-bangs and pip-squeaks, and dugouts, and the smell of wet clay
and chloride of lime, and the life of earth-men who once belonged to a
civilization which had passed. And they went whistling on their way,
because it was the very best thing to do.

One picked up the old landmarks again, and got back into the "feel" of
the war zone. There were the five old windmills of Cassel that wave
their arms up the hill road, and the estaminets by which one found
one's way down country lanes--"The Veritable Cuckoo" and "The Lost
Corner" and "The Flower of the Fields"--and the first smashed roofs
and broken barns which led to the area of constant shell-fire. Ugh!

So it was still going on, this bloody murder! There were some more
cottages down in the village, where we had tea a month before. And in
the market-place of a sleepy old town the windows were mostly broken
and some shops had gone into dust and ashes. That was new since we
last passed this way.

London was only seven hours away, but the hours on leave there seemed
a year ago already. The men who had come back, after sleeping in
civilization with a blessed sense of safety, had a few minutes of
queer surprise that, after all, this business of war was something
more real than a fantastic nightmare, and then put on their moral
cloaks against the chill and grim reality, for another long spell of
it. Very quickly the familiarity of it all came back to them and
became the normal instead of the abnormal. They were back again to the
settled state of war, as boys go back to public schools after the
wrench from home, and find that the holiday is only the incident and
school the more enduring experience.

There were no new impressions, only the repetition of old impressions.
So I found when I heard the guns again and watched the shells bursting
about Ypres and over Kemmel Ridge and Messines church tower.

Two German airplanes passed overhead, and the hum of their engines was
loud in my ears as I lay in the grass. Our shrapnel burst about them,
but did not touch their wings. All around there was the slamming of
great guns, and I sat chewing a bit of straw by the side of a shell-
hole, thinking in the same old way of the utter senselessness of all
this noise and hate and sudden death which encircled me for miles. No
amount of meditation would screw a new meaning out of it all. It was
just the commonplace of life out here.

The routine of it went on. The officer who came back from home stepped
into his old place, and after the first greeting of, "Hullo, old man!
Had a good time?" found his old job waiting for him. So there was a
new brigadier-general? Quick promotion, by Jove!

Four men had got knocked out that morning at D4, and it was rotten bad
luck that the sergeant-major should have been among them. A real good
fellow. However, there's that court martial for this afternoon, and,
by the by, when is that timber coming up? Can't build the new dugout
if there's no decent wood to be got by stealing or otherwise. You
heard how the men got strafed in their billets the other day? Dirty
work!

The man who had come back went into the trenches and had a word or two
with the N.C.O.'s. Then he went into his own dugout. The mice had been
getting at his papers. Oh yes, that's where he left his pipe! It was
lying under the trestle-table, just where he dropped it before going
on leave. The clay walls were a bit wet after the rains. He stood with
a chilled feeling in this little hole of his, staring at every
familiar thing in it.

Tacked to the wall was the portrait of a woman. He said good-by to her
at Victoria Station. How long ago? Surely more than seven hours, or
seven years. . . Outside there were the old noises. The guns were at
it again. That was a trench-mortar. The enemy's eight-inch howitzers
were plugging away. What a beastly row that machine-gun was making!
Playing on the same old spot. Why couldn't they leave it alone, the
asses? . . . Anyhow, there was no doubt about it--he had come back
again. Back to the trenches and the same old business.

There was a mine to be blown up that night and it would make a pretty
mess in the enemy's lines. The colonel was very cheerful about it, and
explained that a good deal of sapping had been done. "We've got the
bulge on 'em," he said, referring to the enemy's failures in this
class of work. In the mess all the officers were carrying on as usual,
making the same old jokes.

The man who had come back got back also the spirit of the thing with
astonishing rapidity. That other life of his, away there in old
London, was shut up in the cupboard of his heart.

So it went on and on until the torture of its boredom was broken by
the crash of big battles, and the New Armies, which had been learning
lessons in the School of Courage, went forward to the great test, and
passed, with honor.




Part Three


THE NATURE OF A BATTLE


I


In September of 1915 the Commander-in-Chief and his staff were busy
with preparations for a battle, in conjunction with the French, which
had ambitious objects. These have never been stated because they were
not gained (and it was the habit of our High Command to conceal its
objectives and minimize their importance if their hopes were
unfulfilled), but beyond doubt the purpose of the battle was to gain
possession of Lens and its coal-fields, and by striking through
Hulluch and Haisnes to menace the German occupation of Lille. On the
British front the key of the enemy's position was Hill 70, to the
north of Lens, beyond the village of Loos, and the capture of that
village and that hill was the first essential of success.

The assault on these positions was to be made by two New Army
divisions of the 4th Corps: the 47th (London) Division, and the 15th
(Scottish) Division. They were to be supported by the 11th Corps,
consisting of the Guards and two new and untried divisions, the 21st
and the 24th. The Cavalry Corps (less the 3d Cavalry Division under
General Fanshawe) was in reserve far back at St.-Pol and Pernes; and
the Indian Cavalry Corps under General Remington was at Doullens; "to
be in readiness," wrote Sir John French, "to co-operate with the
French cavalry in exploiting any success which might be attained by
the French and British forces." . . . Oh, wonderful optimism! In that
Black Country of France, scattered with mining villages in which every
house was a machine-gun fort, with slag heaps and pit-heads which were
formidable redoubts, with trenches and barbed wire and brick-stacks,
and quarries, organized for defense in siege-warfare, cavalry might as
well have ridden through hell with hope of "exploiting" success. . .
"Plans for effective co-operation were fully arranged between the
cavalry commanders of both armies," wrote our Commander-in-Chief in
his despatch. I can imagine those gallant old gentlemen devising their
plans, with grave courtesy, over large maps, and A. D. C.'s clicking
heels in attendance, and an air of immense wisdom and most cheerful
assurance governing the proceedings in the salon of a French chateau.
. . The 3d Cavalry Division, less one brigade, was assigned to the
First Army as a reserve, and moved into the area of the 4th Corps on
the 2lst and 22d of September.




II


The movements of troops and the preparations for big events revealed
to every British soldier in France the "secret" of the coming battle.
Casualty clearing-stations were ordered to make ready for big numbers
of wounded. That was always one of the first signs of approaching
massacre. Vast quantities of shells were being brought up to the rail-
heads and stacked in the "dumps." They were the first-fruit of the
speeding up of munition-factories at home after the public outcry
against shell shortage and the lack of high explosives. Well, at last
the guns would not be starved. There was enough high-explosive force
available to blast the German trenches off the map. So it seemed to
our innocence--though years afterward we knew that no bombardment
would destroy all earthworks such as Germans made, and that always
machine-guns would slash our infantry advancing over the chaos of
mangled ground.

Behind our lines in France, in scores of villages where our men were
quartered, there was a sense of impending fate. Soldiers of the New
Army knew that in a little while the lessons they had learned in the
School of Courage would be put to a more frightful test than that of
holding trenches in stationary warfare. Their boredom, the intolerable
monotony of that routine life, would be broken by more sensational
drama, and some of them were glad of that, and said: "Let's get on
with it. Anything rather than that deadly stagnation." And others, who
guessed they were chosen for the coming battle, and had a clear vision
of what kind of things would happen (they knew something about the
losses at Neuve Chapelle and Festubert), became more thoughtful than
usual, deeply introspective, wondering how many days of life they had
left to them.

Life was good out of the line in that September of '15. The land of
France was full of beauty, with bronzed corn-stooks in the fields, and
scarlet poppies in the grass, and a golden sunlight on old barns and
on little white churches and in orchards heavy with fruit. It was good
to go into the garden of a French chateau and pluck a rose and smell
its sweetness, and think back to England, where other roses were
blooming. England!. . . And in a few days--who could say?--perhaps
eternal sleep somewhere near Lens.

Some officers of the Guards came into the garden of the little house
where I lived at that time with other onlookers. It was an untidy
garden, with a stretch of grass-plot too rough to be called a lawn,
but with pleasant shade under the trees, and a potager with
raspberries and currants on the bushes, and flower-beds where red and
white roses dropped their petals.

Two officers of the Scots Guards, inseparable friends, came to gossip
with us, and read the papers, and drink a little whisky in the
evenings, and pick the raspberries. They were not professional
soldiers. One of them had been a stock-broker, the other "something in
the city." They disliked the army system with an undisguised hatred
and contempt. They hated war with a ferocity which was only a little
"camouflaged" by the irony and the brutality of their anecdotes of
war's little comedies. They took a grim delight in the humor of
corpses, lice, bayonet--work, and the sniping of fair-haired German
boys. They laughed, almost excessively, at these attributes of
warfare, and one of them used to remark, after some such anecdote,
"And once I was a little gentleman!"

He was a gentleman still, with a love of nature in his heart--I saw
him touch the petals of living roses with a caress in his finger-tips-
-and with a spiritual revolt against the beastliness of this new job
of his, although he was a strong, hard fellow, without weakness of
sentiment. His close comrade was of more delicate fiber, a gentle
soul, not made for soldiering at all, but rather for domestic life,
with children about him, and books. As the evenings passed in this
French village, drawing him closer to Loos by the flight of time, I
saw the trouble in his eyes which he tried to hide by smiling and by
courteous conversation. He was being drawn closer to Loos and farther
away from the wife who knew nothing of what that name meant to her and
to him.

Other officers of the Guards came into the garden--Grenadiers. There
were two young brothers of an old family who had always sent their
sons to war. They looked absurdly young when they took off their
tunics and played a game of cricket, with a club for a bat, and a
tennis-ball. They were just schoolboys, but with the gravity of men
who knew that life is short. I watched their young athletic figures,
so clean-limbed, so full of grace, as they threw the ball, and had a
vision of them lying mangled.

An Indian prince came into the garden. It was "Ranjitsinji," who had
carried his bat to many a pavilion where English men and women had
clapped their hands to him, on glorious days when there was sunlight
on English lawns. He took the club and stood at the wicket and was
bowled third ball by a man who had only played cricket after ye manner
of Stratford-atte-Bow. But then he found himself, handled the club
like a sword, watched the ball with a falcon's eye, played with it. He
was on the staff of the Indian Cavalry Corps, which was "to co-operate
in exploiting any success."

"To-morrow we move," said one of the Scots Guards officers. The
colonel of the battalion came to dinner at our mess, sitting down to a
white tablecloth for the last time in his life. They played a game of
cards, and went away earlier than usual.

Two of them lingered after the colonel had gone. They drank more
whisky.

"We must be going," they said, but did not go.

The delicate-looking man could not hide the trouble in his eyes.

"I sha'n't be killed this time," he said to a friend of mine. "I shall
be badly wounded."

The hard man, who loved flowers, drank his fourth glass of whisky.

"It's going to be damned uncomfortable," he said. "I wish the filthy
thing were over. Our generals will probably arrange some glorious
little massacres. I know 'em! . . . Well, good night, all."

They went out into the darkness of the village lane. Battalions were
already on the move, in the night. Their steady tramp of feet beat on
the hard road. Their dark figures looked like an army of ghosts.
Sparks were spluttering out of the funnels of army cookers. A British
soldier in full field kit was kissing a woman in the shadow-world of
an estaminet. I passed close to them, almost touching them before I
was aware of their presence.

"Bonne chance!" said the woman. "Quand to reviens--"

"One more kiss, lassie," said the man.

"Mans comme to es gourmand, toi!"

He kissed her savagely, hungrily. Then he lurched off the sidewalk and
formed up with other men in the darkness.

The Scots Guards moved next morning. I stood by the side of the
colonel, who was in a gruff mood.

"It looks like rain," he said, sniffing the air. "It will probably
rain like hell when the battle begins."

I think he was killed somewhere by Fosse 8. The two comrades in the
Scots Guards were badly wounded. One of the young brothers was killed
and the other maimed. I found their names in the casualty lists which
filled columns of The Times for a long time after Loos.




III


The town of Bethune was the capital of our army in the Black Country
of the French coal-fields. It was not much shelled in those days,
though afterward--years afterward--it was badly damaged by long-range
guns, so that its people fled, at last, after living so long on the
edge of war.

Its people were friendly to our men, and did not raise their prices
exorbitantly. There were good shops in the town--"as good as Paris,"
said soldiers who had never been to Paris, but found these plate-glass
windows dazzling, after trench life, and loved to see the "mamzelles"
behind the counters and walking out smartly, with little high-heeled
shoes. There were tea-shops, crowded always with officers on their way
to the line or just out of it, and they liked to speak French with the
girls who served them. Those girls saw the hunger in those men's eyes,
who watched every movement they made, who tried to touch their hands
and their frocks in passing. They knew they were desired, as daughters
of Eve, by boys who were starved of love. They took that as part of
their business, distributing cakes and buns without favor, with
laughter in their eyes, and a merry word or two. Now and then, when
they had leisure, they retired to inner rooms, divided by curtains
from the shop, and sat on the knees of young British officers, while
others played ragtime or sentimental ballads on untuned pianos. There
was champagne as well as tea to be had in these bun--shops, but the A.
P. M. was down on disorder or riotous gaiety, and there were no
orgies. "Pas d'orgies," said the young ladies severely when things
were getting a little too lively. They had to think of their business.

Down side-streets here and there were houses where other women lived,
not so severe in their point of view. Their business, indeed, did not
permit of severity, and they catered for the hunger of men exiled year
after year from their own home-life and from decent womanhood. They
gave the base counterfeit of love in return for a few francs, and
there were long lines of men--English, Irish, and Scottish soldiers--
who waited their turn to get that vile imitation of life's romance
from women who were bought and paid for. Our men paid a higher price
than a few francs for the Circe's cup of pleasure, which changed them
into swine for a while, until the spell passed, and would have blasted
their souls if God were not understanding of human weakness and of
war. They paid in their bodies, if not in their souls, those boys of
ours who loved life and beauty and gentle things, and lived in filth
and shell-fire, and were trained to kill, and knew that death was
hunting for them and had all the odds of luck. Their children and
their children's children will pay also for the sins of their fathers,
by rickety limbs and water--on-the-brain, and madness, and
tuberculosis, and other evils which are the wages of sin, which
flourished most rankly behind the fields of war.

The inhabitants of Bethune--the shopkeepers, and brave little families
of France, and bright-eyed girls, and frowzy women, and heroines, and
harlots--came out into the streets before the battle of Loos, and
watched the British army pouring through--battalions of Londoners and
Scots, in full fighting-kit, with hot sweat on their faces, and grim
eyes, and endless columns of field-guns and limbers, drawn by hard-
mouthed mules cursed and thrashed by their drivers, and ambulances,
empty now, and wagons, and motor-lorries, hour after hour, day after
day.

"Bonne chance!" cried the women, waving hands and handkerchiefs.

"Les pauvres enfants!" said the old women, wiping their eyes on dirty
aprons. "We know how it is. They will be shot to pieces. It is always
like that, in this sacred war. Oh, those sacred pigs of Germans! Those
dirty Boches! Those sacred bandits!"

"They are going to give the Boches a hard knock," said grizzled men,
who remembered in their boyhood another war. "The English army is
ready. How splendid they are, those boys! And ours are on the right of
them. This time--!"

"Mother of God, hark at the guns!"

At night, as dark fell, the people of Bethune gathered in the great
square by the Hotel de Ville, which afterward was smashed, and
listened to the laboring of the guns over there by Vermelles and
Noeux-les-Mines, and Grenay, and beyond Notre Dame de Lorette, where
the French guns were at work. There were loud, earth--shaking
rumblings, and now and then enormous concussions. In the night sky
lights rose in long, spreading bars of ruddy luminance, in single
flashes, in sudden torches of scarlet flame rising to the clouds and
touching them with rosy feathers.

"'Cre nom de Dieu!" said French peasants, on the edge of all that, in
villages like Gouy, Servins, Heuchin, Houdain, Grenay, Bruay, and
Pernes. "The caldron is boiling up. . . There will be a fine pot-au-
feu."

They wondered if their own sons would be in the broth. Some of them
knew, and crossed themselves by wayside shrines for the sake of their
sons' souls, or in their estaminets cursed the Germans with the same
old curses for having brought all this woe into the world.




IV


In those villages--Heuchin, Houdain, Lillers, and others--on the edge
of the Black Country the Scottish troops of the 15th Division were in
training for the arena, practising attacks on trenches and villages,
getting a fine edge of efficiency on to bayonet-work and bombing, and
having their morale heightened by addresses from brigadiers and
divisional commanders on the glorious privilege which was about to be
theirs of leading the assault, and on the joys as well as the duty of
killing Germans.

In one battalion of Scots--the 10th Gordons, who were afterward the
8/10th--there were conferences of company commanders and whispered
consultations of subalterns. They were "Kitchener" men, from Edinburgh
and Aberdeen and other towns in the North. I came to know them all
after this battle, and gave them fancy names in my despatches: the
Georgian gentleman, as handsome as Beau Brummell, and a gallant
soldier, who was several times wounded, but came back to command his
old battalion, and then was wounded again nigh unto death, but came
back again; and Honest John, slow of speech, with a twinkle in his
eyes, careless of shell splinters flying around his bullet head, hard
and tough and cunning in war; and little Ginger, with his whimsical
face and freckles, and love of pretty girls and all children, until he
was killed in Flanders; and the Permanent Temporary Lieutenant who
fell on the Somme; and the Giant who had a splinter through his brain
beyond Arras; and many other Highland gentlemen, and one English padre
who went with them always to the trenches, until a shell took his head
off at the crossroads.

It was the first big attack of the 15th Division. They were determined
to go fast and go far. Their pride of race was stronger than the
strain on their nerves. Many of them, I am certain, had no sense of
fear, no apprehension of death or wounds. Excitement, the comradeship
of courage, the rivalry of battalions, lifted them above anxiety
before the battle began, though here and there men like Ginger, of
more delicate fiber, of imagination as well as courage, must have
stared in great moments at the grisly specter toward whom they would
soon be walking.

In other villages were battalions of the 47th London Division. They,
too, were to be in the first line of attack, on the right of the
Scots. They, too, had to win honor for the New Army and old London.
They were a different crowd from the Scots, not so hard, not so steel-
-nerved, with more sensibility to suffering, more imagination, more
instinctive revolt against the butchery that was to come. But they,
too, had been "doped" for morale, their nervous tension had been
tightened up by speeches addressed to their spirit and tradition. It
was to be London's day out. They were to fight for the glory of the
old town . . . the old town where they had lived in little suburban
houses with flower-gardens, where they had gone up by the early
morning trains to city offices and government offices and warehouses
and shops, in days before they ever guessed they would go a-
soldiering, and crouch in shell-holes under high explosives, and
thrust sharp steel into German bowels. But they would do their best.
They would go through with it. They would keep their sense of humor
and make cockney jokes at death. They would show the stuff of London
pride.

"Domine, dirige nos!"

I knew many of those young Londoners. I had sat in tea-shops with them
when they were playing dominoes, before the war, as though that were
the most important game in life. I had met one of them at a fancy-
dress ball in the Albert Hall, when he was Sir Walter Raleigh and I
was Richard Sheridan. Then we were both onlookers of life--chroniclers
of passing history. I remained the onlooker, even in war, but my
friend went into the arena. He was a Royal Fusilier, and the old way
of life became a dream to him when he walked toward Loos, and
afterward sat in shell-craters in the Somme fields, and knew that
death would find him, as it did, in Flanders. I had played chess with
one man whom afterward I met as a gunner officer at Heninel, near
Arras, on an afternoon when a shell had killed three of his men
bathing in a tank, and other shells made a mess of blood and flesh in
his wagon-lines. We both wore steel hats, and he was the first to
recognize a face from the world of peace. After his greeting he swore
frightful oaths, cursing the war and the Staff. His nerves were all
jangled. There was another officer in the 47th London Division whom I
had known as a boy. He was only nineteen when he enlisted, not twenty
when he had fought through several battles. He and hundreds like him
had been playing at red Indians in Kensington Gardens a few years
before an August in 1914. . . The 47th London Division, going forward
to the battle of Loos, was made up of men whose souls had been shaped
by all the influences of environment, habit, and tradition in which I
had been born and bred. Their cradle had been rocked to the murmurous
roar of London traffic. Their first adventures had been on London
Commons. The lights along the Embankment, the excitement of the
streets, the faces of London crowds, royal pageantry--marriages,
crownings, burials--on the way to Westminster, the little dramas of
London life, had been woven into the fiber of their thoughts, and it
was the spirit of London which went with them wherever they walked in
France or Flanders, more sensitive than country men to the things they
saw. Some of them had to fight against their nerves on the way to
Loos. But their spirit was exalted by a nervous stimulus before that
battle, so that they did freakish and fantastic things of courage.




V


I watched the preliminary bombardment of the Loos battlefields from a
black slag heap beyond Noeux-les-Mines, and afterward went on the
battleground up to the Loos redoubt, when our guns and the enemy's
were hard at work; and later still, in years that followed, when there
was never a silence of guns in those fields, came to know the ground
from many points of view. It was a hideous territory, this Black
Country between Lens and Hulluch. From the flat country below the
distant ridges of Notre Dame de Lorette and Vimy there rose a number
of high black cones made by the refuse of the coal-mines, which were
called Fosses. Around those black mounds there was great slaughter, as
at Fosse 8 and Fosse 10 and Puits 14bis, and the Double Crassier near
Loos, because they gave observation and were important to capture or
hold. Near them were the pit-heads, with winding-gear in elevated
towers of steel which were smashed and twisted by gun-fire; and in
Loos itself were two of those towers joined by steel girders and
gantries, called the "Tower Bridge" by men of London. Rows of red
cottages where the French miners had lived were called corons, and
where they were grouped into large units they were called cites, like
the Cite St.-Auguste, the Cite St.-Pierre, and the Cite St.-Laurent,
beyond Hill 70, on the outskirts of Lens. All those places were
abandoned now by black-grimed men who had fled down mine-shafts and
galleries with their women and children, and had come up on our side
of the lines at Noeux-les-Mines or Bruay or Bully-Grenay, where they
still lived close to the war. Shells pierced the roof of the church in
that squalid village of Noeux--les-Mines and smashed some of the
cottages and killed some of the people now and then. Later in the war,
when aircraft dropped bombs at night, a new peril over--shadowed them
with terror, and they lived in their cellars after dusk, and sometimes
were buried there. But they would not retreat farther back--not many
of them--and on days of battle I saw groups of French miners and
dirty-bloused girls excited by the passage of our troops and by the
walking wounded who came stumbling back, and by stretcher cases
unloaded from ambulances to the floors of their dirty cottages. High
velocities fell in some of the streets, shrapnel-shells whined
overhead and burst like thunderclaps. Young hooligans of France
slouched around with their hands in their pockets, talking to our men
in a queer lingua franca, grimacing at those noises if they did not
come too near. I saw lightly wounded girls among them, with bandaged
heads and hands, but they did not think that a reason for escape. With
smoothly braided hair they gathered round British soldiers in steel
hats and clasped their arms or leaned against their shoulders. They
had known many of those men before. They were their sweethearts. In
those foul little mining towns the British troops had liked their
billets, because of the girls there. London boys and Scots "kept
company" with pretty slatterns, who stole their badges for keepsakes,
and taught them a base patois of French, and had a smudge of tears on
their cheeks when the boys went away for a spell in the ditches of
death. They were kind-hearted little sluts with astounding courage.

"Aren't you afraid of this place?" I asked one of them in Bully-Grenay
when it was "unhealthy" there. "You might be killed here any minute."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Je m'en fiche de la mort!" ("I don't care a damn about death.")

I had the same answer from other girls in other places.

That was the mise-en-scene of the battle of Loos--those mining towns
behind the lines, then a maze of communication trenches entered from a
place called Philosophe, leading up to the trench-lines beyond
Vermelles, and running northward to Cambrin and Givenchy, opposite
Hulluch, Haisnes, and La Bassee, where the enemy had his trenches and
earthworks among the slag heaps, the pit-heads, the corons and the
cites, all broken by gun-fire, and nowhere a sign of human life
aboveground, in which many men were hidden.

Storms of gun-fire broke loose from our batteries a week before the
battle. It was our first demonstration of those stores of high-
explosive shells which had been made by the speeding up of munition-
work in England, and of a gun-power which had been growing steadily
since the coming out of the New Army. The weather was heavy with mist
and a drizzle of rain. Banks of smoke made a pall over all the arena
of war, and it was stabbed and torn by the incessant flash of bursting
shells. I stood on the slag heap, staring at this curtain of smoke,
hour after hour, dazed by the tumult of noise and by that impenetrable
veil which hid all human drama. There was no movement of men to be
seen, no slaughter, no heroic episode--only through rifts in the smoke
the blurred edges of slag heaps and pit-heads, and smoking ruins.
German trenches were being battered in, German dugouts made into the
tombs of living men, German bodies tossed up with earth and stones--
all that was certain but invisible.

"Very boring," said an officer by my side. "Not a damn thing to be
seen."

"Our men ought to have a walk-over," said an optimist. "Any living
German must be a gibbering idiot with shell-shock."

"I expect they're playing cards in their dugouts," said the officer
who was bored. "Even high explosives don't go down very deep."

"It's stupendous, all the same. By God! hark at that! It seems more
than human. It's like some convulsion of nature."

"There's no adventure in modern war," said the bored man. "It's a
dirty scientific business. I'd kill all chemists and explosive
experts."

"Our men will have adventure enough when they go over the top at dawn.
Hell must be a game compared with that."

The guns went on pounding away, day after day, laboring, pummeling,
hammering, like Thor with his thunderbolts. It was the preparation for
battle. No men were out of the trenches yet, though some were being
killed there and elsewhere, at the crossroads by Philosophe, and
outside the village of Masingarbe, and in the ruins of Vermelles, and
away up at Cambrin and Givenchy. The German guns were answering back
intermittentlv, but holding most of their fire until human flesh came
out into the open. The battle began at dawn on Septembet 25th.




VI


In order to distract the enemy's attention and hold his troops away
from the main battle-front, "subsidiary attacks" were made upon the
German lines as far north as Bellewarde Farm, to the east of Ypres,
and southward to La Bassee Canal at Givenchy, by the troops of the
Second and Third Armies. This object, wrote Sir John French, in his
despatch, "was most effectively achieved." It was achieved by the
bloody sacrifice of many brave battalions in the 3d and 14th Divisions
(Yorkshire, Royal Scots, King's Royal Rifles, and others), and by the
Meerut Division of the Indian Corps, who set out to attack terrible
lines without sufficient artillery support, and without reserves
behind them, and without any chance of holding the ground they might
capture. It was part of the system of war. They were the pawns of
"strategy," serving a high purpose in a way that seemed to them
without reason. Not for them was the glory of a victorious assault.
Their job was to "demonstrate" by exposing their bodies to devouring
fire, and by attacking earthworks which they were not expected to
hold. Here and there men of ours, after their rush over No Man's Land
under a deadly sweep of machine-gun fire, flung themselves into the
enemy's trenches, bayoneting the Germans and capturing the greater
part of their first line. There they lay panting among wounded and
dead, and after that shoveled up earth and burrowed to get cover from
the shelling which was soon to fall on them. Quickly the enemy
discovered their whereabouts and laid down a barrage fire which, with
deadly accuracy, plowed up their old front line and tossed it about on
the pitchforks of bursting shells. Our men's bodies were mangled in
that earth. High explosives plunged into the midst of little groups
crouching in holes and caverns of the ground, and scattered their
limbs. Living, unwounded men lay under those screaming shells with the
panting hearts of toads under the beat of flails. Wounded men crawled
back over No Man's Land, and some were blown to bits as they crawled,
and others got back. Before nightfall, in the dark, a general
retirement was ordered to our original line in that northern sector,
owing to the increasing casualties under the relentless work of the
German guns. Like ants on the move, thousands of men rose from the
upheaved earth, and with their stomachs close to it, crouching, came
back, dragging their wounded. The dead were left.

"On the front of the Third Army," wrote Sir John French, "subsidiary
operations of a similar nature were successfully carried out."

From the point of view of high generalship those holding attacks had
served their purpose pretty well. From the point of view of mothers'
sons they had been a bloody shambles without any gain. The point of
view depends on the angle of vision.




VII


Let me now tell the story of the main battle of Loos as I was able to
piece it together from the accounts of men in different parts of the
field--no man could see more than his immediate neighborhood--and from
the officers who survived. It is a story full of the psychology of
battle, with many strange incidents which happened to men when their
spirit was uplifted by that mingling of exultation and fear which is
heroism, and with queer episodes almost verging on comedy in the midst
of death and agony, at the end of a day of victory, most ghastly
failure.

The three attacking divisions from left to right on the line opposite
the villages of Hulluch and Loos were the 1st, the 15th (Scottish),
and the 47th (London). Higher up, opposite Hulluch and Haisnes, the
9th (Scottish) Division and the 7th Division were in front of the
Hohenzollern redoubt (chalky earthworks thrust out beyond the German
front-line trenches, on rising ground) and some chalk-quarries.

The men of those divisions were lined up during the night in the
communication trenches, which had been dug by the sappers and laid
with miles of telephone wire. They were silent, except for the chink
of shovels and side arms, the shuffle of men's feet, their hard
breathing, and occasional words of command. At five-thirty, when the
guns in all our batteries were firing at full blast, with a constant
scream of shells over the heads of the waiting men, and when the first
faint light of day stole into the sky, there was a slight rain
falling, and the wind blew lightly from the southwest.

In the front-line trenches a number of men were busy with some long,
narrow cylinders, which had been carried up a day before. They were
arranging them in the mud of the parapets with their nozles facing the
enemy lines.

"That's the stuff to give them!"

"What is it?"

"Poison-gas. Worse than they used at Ypres."

"Christ! . . . supposing we have to walk through it?"

"We shall walk behind it. The wind will carry it down the throat of
the Fritzes. We shall find 'em dead."

So men I met had talked of that new weapon which most of them hated.

It was at five-thirty when the men busy with the cylinders turned on
little taps. There was a faint hissing noise, the escape of gas from
many pipes. A heavy, whitish cloud came out of the cylinders and
traveled aboveground as it was lifted and carried forward by the
breeze.

"How's the gas working?" asked a Scottish officer.

"Going fine!" said an English officer. But he looked anxious, and
wetted a finger and held it up, to get the direction of the wind.

Some of the communication trenches were crowded with the Black Watch
of the 1st Division, hard, bronzed fellows, with the red heckle in
their bonnets. (It was before the time of steel hats.) They were
leaning up against the walls of the trenches, waiting. They were
strung round with spades, bombs, and sacks.

"A queer kind o' stink!" said one of them, sniffing.

Some of the men began coughing. Others were rubbing their eyes, as
though they smarted.

The poison-gas. . . The wind had carried it half way across No Man's
Land, then a swirl changed its course, and flicked it down a gully,
and swept it right round to the Black Watch in the narrow trenches.
Some German shell-fire was coming, too. In one small bunch eight men
fell in a mush of blood and raw flesh. But the gas was worse. There
was a movement in the trenches, the huddling together of frightened
men who had been very brave. They were coughing, spitting, gasping.
Some of them fell limp against their fellows, with pallid cheeks which
blackened. Others tied handkerchiefs about their mouths and noses, but
choked inside those bandages, and dropped to earth with a clatter of
shovels. Officers and men were cursing and groaning. An hour later,
when the whistles blew, there were gaps in the line of the 1st
Division which went over the top. In the trenches lay gassed men. In
No Man's Land others fell, swept by machine-gun bullets, shrapnel, and
high explosives. The 1st Division was "checked." . . .

"We caught it badly," said some of them I met later in the day,
bandaged and bloody, and plastered in wet chalk, while gassed men lay
on stretchers about them, unconscious, with laboring lungs.




VIII


Farther south the front-lines of the 15th (Scottish) Division climbed
over their parapets at six-thirty, and saw the open ground before
them, and the dusky, paling sky above them, and broken wire in front
of the enemy's churned-up trenches; and through the smoke, faintly,
and far away, three and a half miles away, the ghostly outline of the
"Tower Bridge" of Loos, which was their goal. For an hour there were
steady tides of men all streaming slowly up those narrow communication
ways, cut through the chalk to get into the light also, where death
was in ambush for many of them somewhere in the shadows of that dawn.

By seven-forty the two assaulting brigades of the 15th Division had
left the trenches and were in the open. Shriller than the scream of
shells above them was the skirl of pipes, going with them. The Pipe
Major of the 8th Gordons was badly wounded, but refused to be touched
until the other men were tended. He was a giant, too big for a
stretcher, and had to be carried back on a tarpaulin. At the dressing-
station his leg was amputated, but he died after two operations, and
the Gordons mourned him.

While the Highlanders went forward with their pipes, two brigades of
the Londoners, on their right, were advancing in the direction of the
long, double slag heap, southwest of Loos, called the Double Crassier.
Some of them were blowing mouth-organs, playing the music-hall song of
"Hullo, hullo, it's a different girl again!" and the "Robert E. Lee,"
until one after another a musician fell in a crumpled heap. Shrapnel
burst over them, and here and there shells plowed up the earth where
they were trudging. On the right of the Londoners the French still
stayed in their trenches--their own attack was postponed until midday-
-and they cheered the London men, as they went forward, with cries of,
"Vivent les Angdais!" "A mort--les Boches!" It was they who saw one
man kicking a football in advance of the others.

"He is mad!" they said. "The poor boy is a lunatic!"

"He is not mad," said a French officer who had lived in England. "It
is a beau geste. He is a sportsman scornful of death. That is the
British sport."

It was a London Irishman dribbling a football toward the goal, and he
held it for fourteen hundred yards--the best-kicked goal in history.

Many men fell in the five hundred yards of No Man's Land. But they
were not missed then by those who went on in waves--rather, like
molecules, separating, collecting, splitting up into smaller groups,
bunching together again, on the way to the first line of German
trenches. A glint of bayonets made a quickset hedge along the line of
churned-up earth which had been the Germans' front--line trench. Our
guns had cut the wire or torn gaps into it. Through the broken strands
went the Londoners on the right, the Scots on the left, shouting
hoarsely now. They saw red. They were hunters of human flesh. They
swarmed down into the first long ditch, trampling over dead bodies,
falling over them, clawing the earth and scrambling up the parados,
all broken and crumbled, then on again to another ditch. Boys dropped
with bullets in their brains, throats, and bodies. German machine-guns
were at work at close range.

"Give'em hell!" said an officer of the Londoners--a boy of nineteen.
There were a lot of living Germans in the second ditch, and in holes
about. Some of them stood still, as though turned to clay, until they
fell with half the length of a bayonet through their stomachs. Others
shrieked and ran a little way before they died. Others sat behind
hillocks of earth, spraying our men with machine-gun bullets until
bombs were hurled on them and they were scattered into lumps of flesh.

Three lines of trench were taken, and the Londoners and the Scots went
forward again in a spate toward Loos. All the way from our old lines
men were streaming up, with shells bursting among them or near them.

On the way to Loos a company of Scots came face to face with a tall
German. He was stone-dead, with a bullet in his brain, his face all
blackened with the grime of battle; but he stood erect in the path,
wedged somehow in a bit of trench. The Scots stared at this figure,
and their line parted and swept each side of him, as though some
obscene specter barred the way. Rank after rank streamed up, and then
a big tide of men poured through the German trench systems and rushed
forward. Three--quarters of a mile more to Loos. Some of them were
panting, out of breath, speechless. Others talked to the men about
them in stray sentences. Most of them were silent, staring ahead of
them and licking their lips with swollen tongues. They were parched
with thirst, some of them told me. Many stopped to drink the last drop
out of their water-bottles. As one man drank he spun round and fell
with a thud on his face. Machine-gun bullets were whipping up the
earth. From Loos came a loud and constant rattle of machine-guns.
Machine-guns were firing out of the broken windows of the houses and
from the top of the "Tower Bridge," those steel girders which rose
three hundred feet high from the center of the village, and from slit
trenches across the narrow streets. There were one hundred machine-
guns in the cemetery to the southwest of the town, pouring out lead
upon the Londoners who had to pass that place.

Scots and London men were mixed up, and mingled in crowds which
encircled Loos, and forced their way into the village; but roughly
still, and in the mass, they were Scots who assaulted Loos itself, and
London men who went south of it to the chalk-pits and the Double
Crassier.

It was eight o'clock in the morning when the first crowds reached the
village, and for nearly two hours afterward there was street-fighting.

It was the fighting of men in the open, armed with bayonets, rifles,
and bombs, against men invisible and in hiding, with machine-guns.
Small groups of Scots, like packs of wolves, prowled around the
houses, where the lower rooms and cellars were crammed with Germans,
trapped and terrified, but still defending themselves. In some of the
houses they would not surrender, afraid of certain death, anyhow, and
kept the Scots at bay awhile until those kilted men flung themselves
in and killed their enemy to the last man. Outside those red-brick
houses lay dead and wounded Scots. Inside there were the curses and
screams of a bloody vengeance. In other houses the machine-gun
garrisons ceased fire and put white rags through the broken windows,
and surrendered like sheep. So it was in one house entered by a little
kilted signaler, who shot down three men who tried to kill him. Thirty
others held their hands up and said, in a chorus of fear, "Kamerad!
Kamerad!"

A company of the 8th Gordons were among the first into Loos, led by
some of those Highland officers I have mentioned on another page. It
was "Honest John" who led one crowd of them, and he claims now, with a
laugh, that he gained his Military Cross for saving the lives of two
hundred Germans. "I ought to have got the Royal Humane Society's
medal," he said. Those Germans--Poles, really, from Silesia--came
swarming out of a house with their hands up. But the Gordons had
tasted blood. They were hungry for it. They were panting and shouting,
with red bayonets, behind their officer.

That young man thought deeply and quickly. If there were "no quarter"
it might be ugly for the Gordons later in the day, and the day was
young, and Loos was still untaken.

He stood facing his own men, ordered them sternly to keep steady.
These men were to be taken prisoners and sent back under escort. He
had his revolver handy, and, anyhow, the men knew him. They obeyed,
grumbling sullenly.

There was the noise of fire in other parts of the village, and the
tap-tap-tap of machine-guns from many cellars. Bombing-parties of
Scots silenced those machine-gunners at last by going to the head of
the stairways and flinging down their hand-grenades. The cellars of
Loos were full of dead.

In one of them, hours after the fighting had ceased among the ruins of
the village, and the line of fire was forward of Hill 70, a living man
still hid and carried on his work. The colonel of one of our forward
battalions came into Loos with his signalers and runners, and
established his headquarters in a house almost untouched by shell-
fire. At the time there was very little shelling, as the artillery
officers on either side were afraid of killing their own men, and the
house seemed fairly safe for the purpose of a temporary signal-
station.

But the colonel noticed that shortly after his arrival heavy shells
began to fall very close and the Germans obviously were aiming
directly for this building. He ordered the cellars to be searched, and
three Germans were found. It was only after he had been in the house
for forty minutes that in a deeper cellar, which had not been seen
before, the discovery was made of a German officer who was telephoning
to his own batteries and directing their fire. Suspecting that the
colonel and his companions were important officers directing general
operations, he had caused the shells to fall upon the house knowing
that a lucky shot would mean his own death as well as theirs.

As our searchers came into the cellar, he rose and stood there,
waiting, with a cold dignity, for the fate which he knew would come to
him, as it did. He was a very brave man.

Another German officer remained hiding in the church, which was so
heavily mined that it would have blown half the village into dust and
ashes if he had touched off the charges. He was fumbling at the job
when our men found and killed him.

In the southern outskirts of Loos, and in the cemetery, the Londoners
had a bloody fight among the tombstones, where nests of German
machine-guns had been built into the vaults. New corpses, still
bleeding, lay among old dead torn from their coffins by shell-fire.
Londoners and Siiesian Germans lay together across one another's
bodies. The London men routed out most of the machine-gunners and
bayoneted some and took prisoners of others. They were not so fierce
as the Scots, but in those hours forgot the flower-gardens in
Streatham and Tooting Bec and the manners of suburban drawing rooms. .
. It is strange that one German machine-gun, served by four men,
remained hidden behind a gravestone all through that day, and
Saturday, and Sunday, and sniped stray men of ours until routed at
last by moppers-up of the Guards brigade.

As the Londoners came down the slope to the southern edge of Loos
village, through a thick haze of smoke from shell-fire and burning
houses, they were astounded to meet a crowd of civilians, mostly women
and children, who came streaming across the open in panic-stricken
groups. Some of them fell under machine-gun fire snapping from the
houses or under shrapnel bursting overhead. The women were haggard and
gaunt, with wild eyes and wild hair, like witches. They held their
children in tight claws until they were near our soldiers, when they
all set up a shrill crying and wailing. The children were dazed with
terror. Other civilians crawled up from their cellars in Loos,
spattered with German blood, and wandered about among soldiers of many
British battalions who crowded amid the scarred and shattered houses,
and among the wounded men who came staggering through the streets,
where army doctors were giving first aid in the roadway, while shells
were bursting overhead and all the roar of the battle filled the air
for miles around with infernal tumult.

Isolated Germans still kept sniping from secret places, and some of
them fired at a dressing-station in the market-place, until a French
girl, afterward decorated for valor--she was called the Lady of Loos
by Londoners and Scots--borrowed a revolver and shot two of them dead
in a neighboring house. Then she came back to the soup she was making
for wounded men.

Some of the German prisoners were impressed as stretcher-bearers, and
one, "Jock," had compelled four Germans to carry him in, while he lay
talking to them in broadest Scots, grinning despite his blood and
wounds.

A London lieutenant called out to a stretcher-bearer helping to carry
down a German officer, and was astounded to be greeted by the wounded
man.

"Hullo, Leslie!. . . I knew we should meet one day."

Looking at the man's face, the Londoner saw it was his own cousin. . .
There was all the drama of war in that dirty village of Loos, which
reeked with the smell of death then, and years later, when I went
walking through it on another day of war, after another battle on Hill
70, beyond.




IX


While the village of Loos was crowded with hunters of men, wounded,
dead, batches of panic-stricken prisoners, women, doctors, Highlanders
and Lowlanders "fey" with the intoxication of blood, London soldiers
with tattered uniforms and muddy rifles and stained bayonets, mixed
brigades were moving forward to new objectives. The orders of the
Scottish troops, which I saw, were to go "all out," and to press on as
far as they could, with the absolute assurance that all the ground
they gained would be held behind them by supporting troops; and having
that promise, they trudged on to Hill 70. The Londoners had been
ordered to make a defensive flank on the right of the Scots by
capturing the chalk-pit south of Loos and digging in. They did this
after savage fighting in the pit, where they bayoneted many Germans,
though raked by machine-gun bullets from a neighboring copse, which
was a fringe of gashed and tattered trees. But some of the London boys
were mixed up with the advancing Scots and went on with them, and a
battalion of Scots Fusiliers who had been in the supporting brigade of
the 15th Division, which was intended to follow the advance, joined
the first assault, either through eagerness or a wrong order, and,
unknown to their brigadier, were among the leaders in the bloody
struggle in Loos, and labored on to Hill 70, where Camerons, Gordons,
Black Watch, Seaforths, Argyll, and Sutherland men and Londoners were
now up the slopes, stabbing stray Germans who were trying to retreat
to a redoubt on the reverse side of the hill.

For a time there was a kind of Bank Holiday crowd on Hill 70. The
German gunners, knowing that the redoubt on the crest was still held
by their men, dared not fire; and many German batteries were on the
move, out of Lens and from their secret lairs in the country
thereabouts, in a state of panic. On our right the French were
fighting desperately at Souchez and Neuville St.-Vaast and up the
lower slopes of Vimy, suffering horrible casualties and failing to
gain the heights in spite of the reckless valor of their men, but
alarming the German staffs, who for a time had lost touch with the
situation--their telephones had been destroyed by gun-fire--and were
filled with gloomy apprehensions. So Hill 70 was quiet, except for
spasms of machine-gun fire from the redoubt on the German side of the
slope and the bombing of German dugouts, or the bayoneting of single
men routed out from holes in the earth.

One of our men came face to face with four Germans, two of whom were
armed with rifles and two with bombs. They were standing in the
wreckage of a trench, pallid, and with the fear of death in their
eyes. The rifles clattered to the earth, the bombs fell at their feet,
and their hands went up when the young Scot appeared before them with
his bayonet down. He was alone, and they could have killed him, but
surrendered, and were glad of the life he granted them. As more men
came up the slope there were greetings between comrades, of:

"Hullo, Jock!"

"Is that you, Alf?"

They were rummaging about for souvenirs in half-destroyed dugouts
where dead bodies lay. They were "swapping" souvenirs--taken from
prisoners--silver watches, tobacco-boxes, revolvers, compasses. Many
of them put on German field-caps, like schoolboys with paper caps from
Christmas crackers, shouting with laughter because of their German
look. They thought the battle was won. After the first wild rush the
shell-fire, the killing, the sight of dead comrades, the smell of
blood, the nightmare of that hour after dawn, they were beginning to
get normal again, to be conscious of themselves, to rejoice in their
luck at having got so far with whole skins. It had been a fine
victory. The enemy was nowhere. He had "mizzled off."

Some of the Scots, with the hunter's instinct still strong, decided to
go on still farther to a new objective. They straggled away in batches
to one of the suburbs of Lens--the Cite St.-Auguste. Very few of them
came back with the tale of their comrades' slaughter by sudden bursts
of machine-gun fire which cut off all chance of retreat. . . .

The quietude of Hill 70 was broken by the beginning of a new
bombardment from German guns.

"Dig in," said the officers. "We must hold on at all costs until the
supports come up."

Where were the supporting troops which had been promised? There was no
sign of them coming forward from Loos. The Scots were strangely
isolated on the slopes of Hill 70. At night the sky above them was lit
up by the red glow of fires in Lens, and at twelve-thirty that night,
under that ruddy sky, dark figures moved on the east of the hill and a
storm of machine-gun bullets swept down on the Highlanders and
Lowlanders, who crouched low in the mangled earth. It was a counter-
attack by masses of men crawling up to the crest from the reverse side
and trying to get the Scots out of the slopes below. Bst the men of
the 15th Division answered by volleys of rifle-fire, machine-gun fire,
and bombs. They held on in spite of dead and wounded men thinning out
their fighting strength. At five-thirty in the morning there was
another strong counter-attack, repulsed also, but at another price of
life in those holes and ditches on the hillside.

Scottish officers stared anxiously back toward their old lines. Where
were the supports? Why did they get no help? Why were they left
clinging like this to an isolated hill? The German artillery had
reorganized. They were barraging the ground about Loos fiercely and
continuously. They were covering a great stretch of country up to
Hulluch, and north of it, with intense harassing fire. Later on that
Saturday morning the 15th Division received orders to attack and
capture the German earthwork redoubt on the crest of the hill. A
brigade of the 21st Division was nominally in support of them, but
only small groups of that brigade appeared on the scene, a few white-
faced officers, savage with anger, almost mad with some despair in
them, with batches of English lads who looked famished with hunger,
weak after long marching, demoralized by some tragedy that had
happened to them. They were Scots who did most of the work in trying
to capture the redoubt, the same Scots who had fought through Loos.
They tried to reach the crest. Again and again they crawled forward
and up, but the blasts of machine-gun fire mowed them down, and many
young Scots lay motionless on those chalky slopes, with their kilts
riddled with bullets. Others, hit in the head, or arms, or legs,
writhed like snakes back to the cover of broken trenches.

"Where are the supports?" asked the Scottish officers. "In God's name,
where are the troops who were to follow on? Why did we do all this
bloody fighting to be hung up in the air like this?"

The answer to their question has not been given in any official
despatch. It is answered by the tragedy of the 21st and 24th
Divisions, who will never forget the misery of that day, though not
many are now alive who suffered it. Their part of the battle I will
tell later.




X


To onlookers there were some of the signs of victory on that day of
September 25th--of victory and its price. I met great numbers of the
lightly wounded men, mostly "Jocks," and they were in exalted spirits
because they had done well in this ordeal and had come through it, and
out of it--alive. They came straggling back through the villages
behind the lines to the casualty clearing--stations and ambulance-
trains. Some of them had the sleeves of their tunics cut away and
showed brown, brawny arms tightly bandaged and smeared with blood.
Some of them were wounded in the legs and hobbled with their arms
about their comrades' necks. Their kilts were torn and plastered with
chalky mud. Nearly all of them had some "souvenir" of the fighting--
German watches, caps, cartridges. They carried themselves with a
warrior look, so hard, so lean, so clear-eyed, these young Scots of
the Black Watch and Camerons and Gordons. They told tales of their own
adventure in broad Scots, hard to understand, and laughed grimly at
the killing they had done, though here and there a lad among them had
a look of bad remembrance in his eyes, and older men spoke gravely of
the scenes on the battlefield and called it "hellish." But their pride
was high. They had done what they had been asked to do. The 15th
Division had proved its quality. Their old battalions, famous in
history, had gained new honor.

Thousands of those lightly wounded men swarmed about a long ambulance-
train standing in a field near the village of Choques. They crowded
the carriages, leaned out of the windows with their bandaged heads and
arms, shouting at friends they saw in the other crowds. The spirit of
victory, and of lucky escape, uplifted those lads, drugged them. And
now they were going home for a spell. Home to bonny Scotland, with a
wound that would take some time to heal.

There were other wounded men from whom no laughter came, nor any
sound. They were carried to the train on stretchers, laid down awhile
on the wooden platforms, covered with blankets up to their chins--
unless they uncovered themselves with convulsive movements. I saw one
young Londoner so smashed about the face that only his eyes were
uncovered between layers of bandages, and they were glazed with the
first film of death. Another had his jaw blown clean away, so the
doctor told me, and the upper half of his face was livid and
discolored by explosive gases. A splendid boy of the Black Watch was
but a living trunk. Both his arms and both his legs were shattered. If
he lived after butcher's work of surgery he would be one of those who
go about in boxes on wheels, from whom men turn their eyes away, sick
with a sense of horror. There were blind boys led to the train by
wounded comrades, groping, very quiet, thinking of a life of darkness
ahead of them--forever in the darkness which shut in their souls. For
days and weeks that followed there was always a procession of
ambulances on the way to the dirty little town of Lillers, and going
along the roads I used to look back at them and see the soles of muddy
boots upturned below brown blankets. It was more human wreckage coming
down from the salient of Loos, from the chalkpits of Hulluch and the
tumbled earth of the Hohenzollern redoubt, which had been partly
gained by the battle which did not succeed. Outside a square brick
building, which was the Town Hall of Lillers, and for a time a
casualty clearing-station, the "bad" cases were unloaded; men with
chunks of steel in their lungs and bowels were vomiting great gobs of
blood, men with arms and legs torn from their trunks, men without
noses, and their brains throbbing through opened scalps, men without
faces . . .




XI


To a field behind the railway station near the grimy village of
Choques, on the edge of this Black Country of France, the prisoners
were brought; and I went among them and talked with some of them, on a
Sunday morning, when now the rain had stopped and there was a blue sky
overhead and good visibility for German guns and ours.

There were fourteen hundred German prisoners awaiting entrainment, a
mass of slate-gray men lying on the wet earth in huddled heaps of
misery, while a few of our fresh-faced Tommies stood among them with
fixed bayonets. They were the men who had surrendered from deep
dugouts in the trenches between us and Loos and from the cellars of
Loos itself. They had seen many of their comrades bayoneted. Some of
them had shrieked for mercy. Others had not shrieked, having no power
of sound in their throats, but had shrunk back at the sight of
glinting bayonets, with an animal fear of death. Now, all that was a
nightmare memory, and they were out of it all until the war should
end, next year, the year after, the year after that--who could tell?

They had been soaked to the skin in the night and their gray uniforms
were still soddened. Many of them were sleeping, in huddled, grotesque
postures, like dead men, some lying on their stomachs, face downward.
Others were awake, sitting hunched up, with drooping heads and a
beaten, exhausted look. Others paced up and down, up and down, like
caged animals, as they were, famished and parched, until we could
distribute the rations. Many of them were dying, and a German
ambulanceman went among them, injecting them with morphine to ease the
agony which made them writhe and groan. Two men held their stomachs,
moaning and whimpering with a pain that gnawed their bowels, caused by
cold and damp. They cried out to me, asking for a doctor. A friend of
mine carried a water jar to some of the wounded and held it to their
lips. One of them refused. He was a tall, evil-looking fellow, with a
bloody rag round his head--a typical "Hun," I thought. But he pointed
to a comrade who lay gasping beside him and said, in German, "He needs
it first." This man had never heard of Sir Philip Sidney, who at
Zutphen, when thirsty and near death, said, "His need is greater than
mine," but he had the same chivalry in his soul.

The officer in charge of their escort could not speak German and had
no means of explaining to the prisoners that they were to take their
turn to get rations and water at a dump nearby. It was a war
correspondent, young Valentine Williams, afterward a very gallant
officer in the Irish Guards who gave the orders in fluent and incisive
German. He began with a hoarse shout of "Achtung!" and that old word
of command had an electrical effect on many of the men. Even those who
had seemed asleep staggered to their feet and stood at attention. The
habit of discipline was part of their very life, and men almost dead
strove to obey.

The non-commissioned officers formed parties to draw and distribute
the rations, and then those prisoners clutched at hunks of bread and
ate in a famished way, like starved beasts. Some of them had been four
days hungry, cut off from their supplies by our barrage fire, and
intense hunger gave them a kind of vitality when food appeared. The
sight of that mass of men reduced to such depths of human misery was
horrible. One had no hate in one's heart for them then.

"Poor devils!" said an officer with me. "Poor beasts! Here we see the
`glory' of war! the `romance' of war!"

I spoke to some of them in bad German, and understood their answer.

"It is better here than on the battlefield," said one of them. "We are
glad to be prisoners."

One of them waved his hand toward the tumult of guns which were firing
ceaselessly.

"I pity our poor people there," he said.

One of them, who spoke English, described all he had seen of the
battle, which was not much, because no man at such a time sees more
than what happens within a yard or two.

"The English caught us by surprise when the attack came at last," he
said. "The bombardment had been going on for days, and we could not
guess when the attack would begin. I was in a deep dugout, wondering
how long it would be before a shell came through the roof and blow us
to pieces. The earth shook above our heads. Wounded men crawled into
the dugout, and some of them died down there. We sat looking at their
bodies in the doorway and up the steps. I climbed over them when a
lull came. A friend of mine was there, dead, and I stepped on his
stomach to get upstairs. The first thing I saw was a crowd of your
soldiers streaming past our trenches. We were surrounded on three
sides, and our position was hopeless. Some of our men started firing,
but it was only asking for death. Your men killed them with bayonets.
I went back into my dugout and waited. Presently there was an
explosion in the doorway and part of the dugout fell in. One of the
men with me had his head blown off, and his blood spurted on me. I was
dazed, but through the fumes I saw an English soldier in a petticoat
standing at the doorway, making ready to throw another bomb.

"I shouted to him in English:

"'Don't kill us! We surrender!'

"He was silent for a second or two, and I thought he would throw his
bomb. Then he said:

"'Come out, you swine.'

"So we went out, and saw many soldiers in petticoats, your
Highlanders, with bayonets. They wanted to kill us, but one man argued
with them in words I could not understand-a dialect-and we were told
to go along a trench. Even then we expected death, but came to another
group of prisoners, and joined them on their way back. Gott sei dank!"

He spoke gravely and simply, this dirty, bearded man, who had been a
clerk in a London office. He had the truthfulness of a man who had
just come from great horrors.

Many of the men around him were Silesians-more Polish than German.
Some of them could not speak more than a few words of German, and were
true Slavs in physical type, with flat cheek-bones.

A group of German artillery officers had been captured and they were
behaving with studied arrogance and insolence as they smoked
cigarettes apart from the men, and looked in a jeering way at our
officers.

"Did you get any of our gas this morning?" I asked them, and one of
them laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

"I smelled it a little. It was rather nice . . . The English always
imitate the German war-methods, but without much success."

They grinned and imitated my way of saying "Guten Tag" when I left
them. It took a year or more to tame the arrogance of the German
officer. At the end of the Somme battles he changed his manner when
captured, and was very polite.

In another place--a prison in St.-Omer--I had a conversation with two
other officers of the German army who were more courteous than the
gunners. They had been taken at Hooge and were both Prussians--one a
stout captain, smiling behind horn spectacles, with a false, jovial
manner, hiding the effect of the ordeal from which he had just
escaped, and his hatred of us; the other a young, slim fellow, with
clear-cut features, who was very nervous, but bowed repeatedly, with
his heels together, as though in a cafe at Ehrenbreitstein, when high
officers came in. A few hours before he had been buried alive. One of
our mines had exploded under him, flinging a heap of earth over him.
The fat man by his side--his captain--had been buried, too, in the
dugout. They had scraped themselves out by clawing at the earth.

They were cautious about answering questions on the war, but the
younger man said they were prepared down to the last gaiter for
another winter campaign and--that seemed to me at the time a fine
touch of audacity--for two more winter campaigns if need be. The
winter of '16, after this autumn and winter of '15, and then after
that the winter of '17! The words of that young Prussian seemed to me,
the more I thought of them, idiotic and almost insane. Why, the world
itself could not suffer two more years of war. It would end before
then in general anarchy, the wild revolutions of armies on all fronts.
Humanity of every nation would revolt against such prolonged
slaughter. . . It was I who was mad, in the foolish faith that the war
would end before another year had passed, because I thought that would
be the limit of endurance of such mutual massacre.

In a room next to those two officers--a week before this battle, the
captain had been rowing with his wife on the lake at Potsdam--was
another prisoner, who wept and wept. He had escaped to our lines
before the battle to save his skin, and now was conscience-stricken
and thought he had lost his soul. What stabbed his conscience most was
the thought that his wife and children would lose their allowances
because of his treachery. He stared at us with wild, red eyes.

"Ach, mein armes Weib! Meine Kinder!. . .  Ach, Gott in Himmel!"

He had no pride, no dignity, no courage.

This tall, bearded man, father of a family, put his hands against the
wall and laid his head on his arm and wept.




XII


During the battle, for several days I went with other men to various
points of view, trying to see something of the human conflict from
slag heaps and rising ground, but could only see the swirl and flurry
of gun-fire and the smoke of shells mixing with wet mist, and the
backwash of wounded and prisoners, and the traffic of guns, and
wagons, and supporting troops. Like an ant on the edge of a volcano I
sat among the slag heaps with gunner observers, who were listening at
telephones dumped down in the fields and connected with artillery
brigades and field batteries.

"The Guards are fighting round Fosse 8," said one of these observers.

Through the mist I could see Fosse 8, a flat-topped hill of coal-dust.
Little glinting lights were playing about it, like confetti shining in
the sun. That was German shrapnel. Eruptions of red flame and black
earth vomited out of the hill. That was German high explosive. For a
time on Monday, September 27th, it was the storm-center of battle.

"What's that?" asked an artillery staff-officer, with his ear to the
field telephone. "What's that?. . .  Hullo!. . .  Are you there?. . .
The Guards have been kicked off Fosse 8. . . Oh, hell!"

From all parts of the field of battle such whispers came to listening
men and were passed on to headquarters, where other men listened. This
brigade was doing pretty well. That was hard pressed. The Germans were
counter-attacking heavily. Their barrage was strong and our casualties
heavy. "Oh, hell!" said other men. From behind the mist came the news
of life and death, revealing things which no onlooker could see.

I went closer to see--into the center of the arc of battle, up by the
Loos redoubt, where the German dead and ours still lay in heaps. John
Buchan was my companion on that walk, and together we stood staring
over the edge of a trench to where, grim and gaunt against the gray
sky, loomed the high, steel columns of the "Tower Bridge," the mining-
works which I had seen before the battle as an inaccessible landmark
in the German lines. Now they were within our lines in the center of
Loos, and no longer "leering" at us, as an officer once told me they
used to do when he led his men into communication trenches under their
observation.

Behind us now was the turmoil of war--thousands and scores of
thousands of men moving in steady columns forward and backward in the
queer, tangled way which during a great battle seems to have no
purpose or meaning, except to the directing brains on the Headquarters
Staff, and, sometimes in history, none to them.

Vast convoys of transports choked the roads, with teams of mules
harnessed to wagons and gun-limbers, with trains of motor ambulances
packed with wounded men, with infantry brigades plodding through the
slush and slime, with divisional cavalry halted in the villages, and
great bivouacs in the boggy fields.

The men, Londoners, and Scots, and Guards, and Yorkshires, and
Leinsters, passed and repassed in dense masses, in small battalions,
in scattered groups. One could tell them from those who were filling
their places by the white chalk which covered them from head to foot,
and sometimes by the blood which had splashed them.

Regiments which had lost many of their comrades and had fought in
attack and counter-attack through those days and nights went very
silently, and no man cheered them. Legions of tall lads, who a few
months before marched smart and trim down English lanes, trudged
toward the fighting-lines under the burden of their heavy packs, with
all their smartness befouled by the business of war, but wonderful and
pitiful to see because of the look of courage and the gravity in their
eyes as they went up to dreadful places. Farther away within the zone
of the enemy's fire the traffic ceased, and I came into the desolate
lands of death, where there is but little movement, and the only noise
is that of guns. I passed by ruined villages and towns.

To the left was Vermelles (two months before death nearly caught me
there), and I stared at those broken houses and roofless farms and
fallen churches which used to make one's soul shiver even when they
stood clear in the daylight.

To the right, a few hundred yards away, was Masingarbe, from which
many of our troops marched out to begin the great attack. Farther back
were the great slag heaps of Noeux-les-Mines, and all around other
black hills of this mining country which rise out of the flat plain.
It was a long walk through narrow trenches toward that Loos redoubt
where at last I stood. There was the smell of death in those narrow,
winding ways. One boy, whom death had taken almost at the entrance-
way, knelt on the fire-step, with his head bent and his forehead
against the wet clay, as though in prayer. Farther on other bodies of
London boys and Scots lay huddled up.

We were in the center of a wide field of fire, with the enemy's
batteries on one side and ours on the other in sweeping semicircles.
The shells of all these batteries went crying through the air with
high, whining sighs, which ended in the cough of death. The roar of
the guns was incessant and very close. The enemy was sweeping a road
to my right, and his shells went overhead with a continual rush,
passing our shells, which answered back. The whole sky was filled with
these thunderbolts. Many of them were "Jack Johnsons," which raised a
volume of black smoke where they fell. I wondered how it would feel to
be caught by one of them, whether one would have any consciousness
before being scattered. Fear, which had walked with me part of the
way, left me for a time. I had a strange sense of exhilaration, an
intoxicated interest in this foul scene and the activity of that
shell-fire.

Peering over the parapet, we saw the whole panorama of the
battleground. It was but an ugly, naked plain, rising up to Hulluch
and Haisnes on the north, falling down to Loos on the east, from where
we stood, and rising again to Hill 70 (now in German hands again),
still farther east and a little south.

The villages of Haisnes and Hulluch fretted the skyline, and Fosse 8
was a black wart between them. The "Tower Bridge," close by in the
town of Loos, was the one high landmark which broke the monotony of
this desolation.

No men moved about this ground. Yet thousands of men were hidden about
us in the ditches, waiting for another counter-attack behind storms of
fire. The only moving things were the shells which vomited up earth
and smoke and steel as they burst in all directions over the whole
zone. We were shelling Hulluch and Haisnes and Fosse 8 with an
intense, concentrated fire, and the enemy was retaliating by
scattering shells over the town of Loos and our new line between Hill
70 and the chalk-pit, and the whole length of our line from north to
south.

Only two men moved about above the trenches. They were two London boys
carrying a gas-cylinder, and whistling as though it were a health
resort under the autumn sun. . . It was not a health resort. It stank
of death, from piles of corpses, all mangled and in a mush of flesh
and bones lying around the Loos redoubt and all the ground in this
neighborhood, and for a long distance north.

Through the streets of Bethune streamed a tide of war: the transport
of divisions, gun-teams with their limber ambulance convoys,
ammunition wagons, infantry moving up to the front, despatch riders,
staff-officers, signalers, and a great host of men and mules and
motor-cars. The rain lashed down upon the crowds; waterproofs and
burberries and the tarpaulin covers of forage-carts streamed with
water, and the bronzed faces of the soldiers were dripping wet. Mud
splashed them to the thighs. Fountains of mud spurted up from the
wheels of gun-carriages. The chill of winter made Highlanders as well
as Indians--those poor, brave, wretched Indians who had been flung
into the holding attack on the canal at La Bassee, and mown down in
the inevitable way by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets--shiver in the
wind.

Yet, in spite of rain and great death, there was a spirit of
exultation among many fighting-men. At last there was a break in the
months of stationary warfare. We were up and out of the trenches. The
first proofs of victory were visible there in a long line of German
guns captured at Loos, guarded on each side by British soldiers with
fixed bayonets. Men moving up did not know the general failure that
had swamped a partial success. They stared at the guns and said, "By
God--we've got 'em going this time!"

A group of French civilians gathered round them, excited at the sight.
Artillery officers examined their broken breech-blocks and their
inscriptions:

"Pro Gloria et Patria."

"Ultima ratio regis."

The irony of the words made some of the onlookers laugh. A French
interpreter spoke to some English officers with a thrill of joy in his
voice. Had they heard the last news from Champagne? The French had
broken through the enemy's line. The Germans were in full retreat . .
. It was utterly untrue, because after the desperate valor of heroic
youth and horrible casualties, the French attack had broken down. But
the spirit of hope came down the cold wind and went with the men whom
I saw marching to the fields of fate in the slanting rain, as the
darkness and the mist came to end another day of battle.

Outside the headquarters of a British army corps stood another line of
captured field-guns and several machine-guns, of which one had a
strange history of adventure. It was a Russian machine-gun, taken by
the Germans on the eastern front and retaken by us on the western
front.

In General Rawlinson's headquarters I saw a queer piece of booty. It
was a big bronze bell used by the Germans in their trenches to signal
a British gas-attack.

General Rawlinson was taking tea in his chateau when I called on him,
and was having an animated argument with Lord Cavan, commanding the
Guards, as to the disposal of the captured artillery and other
trophies. Lord Cavan claimed some for his own, with some violence of
speech. But General Rawlinson was bright and breezy as usual. Our
losses were not worrying him. As a great general he did not allow
losses to worry him. He ate his tea with a hearty appetite, and
chaffed his staff-officers. They were anticipating the real German
counter-attack--a big affair. Away up the line there would be more
dead piled up, more filth and stench of human slaughter, but the smell
of it would not reach back to headquarters.




XIII


In a despatch by Sir John French, dated October 15, 1915, and issued
by the War Office on November 1st of that year, the Commander-in-Chief
stated that: "In view of the great length of line along which the
British troops were operating it was necessary to keep a strong
reserve in my own hand. The 11th Corps, consisting of the Guards, the
21st and the 24th Divisions, were detailed for this purpose. This
reserve was the more necessary owing to the fact that the Tenth French
Army had to postpone its attack until one o'clock in the day; and
further, that the corps operating on the French left had to be
directed in a more or less southeasterly direction, involving, in case
of our success, a considerable gap in our line. To insure, however,
the speedy and effective support of the 1st and 4th Corps in the case
of their success, the 21st and 24th Divisions passed the night of the
24th and 25th on the line Beuvry (to the east of Bethune)-Noeux-les-
Mines. The Guards Division was in the neighborhood of Lillers on the
same night."

By that statement, and by the facts that happened in accordance with
it, the whole scheme of attack in the battle of Loos will stand
challenged in history. Lord French admits in that despatch that he
held his reserves "in his own hand," and later he states that it was
not until nine-thirty on the morning of battle that "I placed the 21st
and 24th Divisions at the disposal of the General Officer commanding
First Army." He still held the Guards. He makes, as a defense of the
decision to hold back the reserves, the extraordinary statement that
there "would be a considerable gap in our line in case of our
success." That is to say, he was actually envisaging a gap in the line
if the attack succeeded according to his expectations, and risking the
most frightful catastrophe that may befall any army in an assault upon
a powerful enemy, provided with enormous reserves, as the Germans were
at that time, and as our Commander-in-Chief ought to have known.

But apart from that the whole time-table of the battle was, as it now
appears, fatally wrong. To move divisions along narrow roads requires
an immense amount of time, even if the roads are clear, and those
roads toward Loos were crowded with the transport and gun-limbers of
the assaulting troops. To move them in daylight to the trenches meant
inevitable loss of life and almost certain demoralization under the
enemy's gun-fire.

"Between 11 A.M. and 12 noon the central brigade of these divisions
filed past me at Bethune and Noeux-les-Mines, respectively," wrote Sir
John French. It was not possible for them to reach our old trenches
until 4 P.M. It was Gen. Sir Frederick Maurice, the Chief of Staff,
who revealed that fact to me afterward in an official explanation, and
it was confirmed by battalion officers of the 24th Division whom I
met.

That time-table led to disaster. By eight o'clock in the morning there
were Scots on Hill 70. They had been told to go "all out," with the
promise that the ground they gained would be consolidated by following
troops. Yet no supports were due to arrive until 4 P.M. at our
original line of attack--still away back from Hill 70--by which time
the enemy had recovered from his first surprise, had reorganized his
guns, and was moving up his own supports. Tragedy befell the Scots on
Hill 70 and in the Cite St.-Auguste, as I have told. Worse tragedy
happened to the 21st and 24th Divisions. They became hopelessly
checked and tangled in the traffic of the roads, and in their heavy
kit were exhausted long before they reached the battlefield. They
drank the water out of their bottles, and then were parched. They ate
their iron rations, and then were hungry. Some of their transport
moved too far forward in daylight, was seen by German observers,
ranged on by German guns, and blown to bits on the road. The cookers
were destroyed, and with them that night's food. None of the officers
had been told that they were expected to attack on that day. All they
anticipated was the duty of holding the old support trenches. In
actual fact they arrived when the enemy was preparing a heavy counter-
attack and flinging over storms of shell-fire. The officers had no
maps and no orders. They were utterly bewildered with the situation,
and had no knowledge as to the where-abouts of the enemy or their own
objectives. Their men met heavy fire for the first time when their
physical and moral condition was weakened by the long march, the lack
of food and water, and the unexpected terror ahead of them. They
crowded into broken trenches, where shells burst over them and into
them. Young officers acting on their own initiative tried to lead
their men forward, and isolated parties went forward, but uncertainly,
not knowing the ground nor their purpose. Shrapnel lashed them, and
high-explosive shells plowed up the earth about them and with them.
Dusk came, and then darkness. Some officers were cursing, and some
wept, fearing dishonor. The men were huddled together like sheep
without shepherds when wolves are about, and saw by the bewilderment
of the officers that they were without leadership. It is that which
makes for demoralization, and these men, who afterward in the battle
of the Somme in the following year fought with magnificent valor, were
on that day at Loos demoralized in a tragic and complete way. Those
who had gone forward came back to the crowded trenches and added to
the panic and the rage and the anguish. Men smashed their rifles in a
kind of madness. Boys were cursing and weeping at the same time. They
were too hopelessly disordered and dismayed by the lack of guidance
and by the shock to their sense of discipline to be of much use in
that battle. Some bodies of them in both these unhappy divisions
arrived in front of Hill 70 at the very time when the enemy launched
his first counter-attack, and were driven back in disorder. . . Some
days later I saw the 21st Division marching back behind the lines.
Rain slashed them. They walked with bent heads. The young officers
were blanched and had a beaten look. The sight of those dejected men
was tragic and pitiful.




XIV


Meanwhile, at 6 P.M. on the evening of the first day of battle, the
Guards arrived at Noeux-les-Mines. As I saw them march up, splendid in
their height and strength and glory of youth, I looked out for the
officers I knew, yet hoped I should not see them--that man who had
given a farewell touch to the flowers in the garden of our billet,
that other one who knew he would be wounded, those two young brothers
who had played cricket on a sunny afternoon. I did not see them, but
saw only columns of men, staring grimly ahead of them, with strange,
unspeakable thoughts behind their masklike faces.

It was not until the morning of the 26th that the Commander-in-Chief
"placed them at the disposal of the General Officer commanding First
Army," and it was on the afternoon of Monday, the 27th, that they were
ordered to attack.

By that time we had lost Fosse 8, one brigade of the 9th Scottish
Division having been flung back to its own trenches after desperate
fighting, at frightful cost, after the capture of the Hohenzollern
redoubt by the 26th Brigade of that division. To the north of them the
7th Division was also suffering horrible losses after the capture of
the quarries, near Hulluch, and the village of Haisnes, which
afterward was lost. The commanding officers of both divisions, General
Capper of the 7th, and General Thesiger of the 9th, were killed as
they reconnoitered the ground, and wounded men were pouring down to
the casualty clearing stations if they had the luck to get so far.
Some of them had not that luck, but lay for nearly two days before
they were rescued by the stretcher-bearers from Quality Street and
Philosophe.

It was bad all along the line. The whole plan had gone astray from the
beginning. With an optimism which was splendid in fighting-men and
costly in the High Command, our men had attacked positions of enormous
strength--held by an enemy in the full height of his power--without
sufficient troops in reserve to follow up and support the initial
attack, to consolidate the ground, and resist inevitable counter-
attacks. What reserves the Commander-in-Chief had he held "in his own
hand" too long and too far back.

The Guards went in when the enemy was reorganized to meet them. The
28th Division, afterward in support, was too late to be a decisive
factor.

I do not blame Lord French. I have no right to blame him, as I am not
a soldier nor a military expert. He did his best, with the highest
motives. The blunders he made were due to ignorance of modern battles.
Many other generals made many other blunders, and our men paid with
their lives. Our High Command had to learn by mistakes, by ghastly
mistakes, repeated often, until they became visible to the military
mind and were paid for again by the slaughter of British youth. One
does not blame. A writing-man, who was an observer and recorder, like
myself, does not sit in judgment. He has no right to judge. He merely
cries out, "O God! . . . O God!" in remembrance of all that agony and
that waste of splendid boys who loved life, and died.

On Sunday, as I have told, the situation was full of danger. The Scots
of the 15th Division, weakened by many losses and exhausted by their
long fatigue, had been forced to abandon the important position of
Puits 14--a mine-shaft half a mile north of Hill 70, linked up in
defense with the enemy's redoubt on the northeast side of Hill 70. The
Germans had been given time to bring up their reserves, to reorganize
their broken lines, and to get their batteries into action again.

There was a consultation of anxious brigadiers in Loos when no man
could find safe shelter owing to the heavy shelling which now ravaged
among the houses. Rations were running short, and rain fell through
the roofless ruins, and officers and men shivered in wet clothes. Dead
bodies blown into bits, headless trunks, pools of blood, made a
ghastly mess in the roadways and the houses. Badly wounded men were
dragged down into the cellars, and lay there in the filth of Friday's
fighting. The headquarters of one of the London brigades had put up in
a roofless barn, but were shelled out, and settled down on some heaps
of brick in the open. It was as cold as death in the night, and no
fire could be lighted, and iron rations were the only food, until two
chaplains, "R. C." and Church of England (no difference of dogma
then), came up as volunteers in a perilous adventure, with bottles of
hot soup in mackintoshes. They brought a touch of human warmth to the
brigade staff, made those hours of the night more endurable, but the
men farther forward had no such luck. They were famishing and soaked,
in a cold hell where shells tossed up the earth about them and
spattered them with the blood and flesh of their comrades.

On Monday morning the situation was still more critical, all along the
line, and the Guards were ordered up to attack Hill 70, to which only
a few Scots were clinging on the near slopes. The 6th Cavalry Brigade
dismounted--no more dreams of exploiting success and galloping round
Lens--were sent into Loos with orders to hold the village at all cost,
with the men of the 15th Division, who had been left there.

The Londoners were still holding on to the chalk-pit south of Loos,
under murderous fire.

It was a bad position for the troops sent into action at that stage.
The result of the battle on September 25th had been to create a
salient thrust like a wedge into the German position and enfiladed by
their guns. The sides of the salient ran sharply back--from Hulluch in
the north, past the chalk-quarries to Givenchy, and in the south from
the lower slopes of Hill 70 past the Double Crassier to Grenay. The
orders given to the Guards were to straighten out this salient on the
north by capturing the whole of Hill 70, Puits 14, to the north of it,
and the chalk-pit still farther north.

It was the 2d Brigade of Guards, including Grenadiers, Welsh and Scots
Guards, which was to lead the assault, while the 1st Brigade on the
left maintained a holding position and the 3d Brigade was in support,
immediately behind.

As soon as the Guards started to attack they were met by a heavy storm
of gas-shells. This checked them for a time, as smoke-helmets--the old
fashioned things of flannel which were afterward changed for the masks
with nozzles--had to be served out, and already men were choking and
gasping in the poisonous fumes. Among them was the colonel of the
Grenadiers, whose command was taken over by the major. Soon the men
advanced again, looking like devils, as, in artillery formation (small
separate groups), they groped their way through the poisoned clouds.
Shrapnel and high explosives burst over them and among them, and many
men fell as they came within close range of the enemy's positions
running from Hill 70 northward to the chalk-pit.

The Irish Guards, supported by the Coldstreamers, advanced down the
valley beyond Loos and gained the lower edge of Bois Hugo, near the
chalk-pit, while the Scots Guards assaulted Puits 14 and the building
in its group of houses known as the Keep. Another body of Guards,
including Grenadiers and Welsh, attacked at the same time the lower
slopes of Hill 70.

Puits 14 itself was won by a party of Scots Guards, led by an officer
named Captain Cuthbert, which engaged in hand-to-hand fighting,
routing out the enemy from the houses. Some companies of the
Grenadiers came to the support of their comrades in the Scots Guards,
but suffered heavy losses themselves. A platoon under a young
lieutenant named Ayres Ritchie reached the Puits, and, storming their
way into the Keep, knocked out a machine-gun, mounted on the second
floor, by a desperate bombing attack. The officer held on in a most
dauntless way to the position, until almost every man was either
killed or wounded, unable to receive support, owing to the enfilade
fire of the German machine-guns.

Night had now come on, the sky lightened by the bursting of shells and
flares, and terrible in its tumult of battle. Some of the
Coldstreamers had gained possession of the chalk-pit, which they were
organizing into a strong defensive position, and various companies of
the Guards divisions, after heroic assaults upon Hill 70, where they
were shattered by the fire which met them on the crest from the
enemy's redoubt on the northeast side, had dug themselves into the
lower slopes.

There was a strange visitor that day at the headquarters of the Guards
division, where Lord Cavan was directing operations. A young officer
came in and said, quite calmly: "Sir, I have to report that my
battalion has been cut to pieces. We have been utterly destroyed."

Lord Cavan questioned him, and then sent for another officer. "Look
after that young man," he said, quietly. "He is mad. It is a case of
shell-shock."

Reports came through of a mysterious officer going the round of the
batteries, saying that the Germans had broken through and that they
had better retire. Two batteries did actually move away.

Another unknown officer called out, "Retire! Retire!" until he was
shot through the head. "German spies!" said some of our officers and
men, but the Intelligence branch said, "Not spies . . . madmen . . .
poor devils!"

Before the dawn came the Coldstreamers made another desperate attempt
to attack and hold Puits 14, but the position was too deadly even for
their height of valor, and although some men pushed on into this
raging fire, the survivors had to fall back to the woods, where they
strengthened their defensive works.

On the following day the position was the same, the sufferings of our
men being still further increased by heavy shelling from 8-inch
howitzers. Colonel Egerton of the Coldstream Guards and his adjutant
were killed in the chalk-pit.

It was now seen by the headquarters staff of the Guards Division that
Puits 14 was untenable, owing to its enfilading by heavy artillery,
and the order was given for a retirement to the chalk-pit, which was a
place of sanctuary owing to the wonderful work done throughout the
night to strengthen its natural defensive features by sand--bags and
barbed wire, in spite of machine-guns which raked it from the
neighboring woods.

The retirement was done as though the men were on parade, slowly, and
in perfect order, across the field of fire, each man bearing himself,
so their officers told me, as though at the Trooping of the Colors,
until now one and then another fell in a huddled heap. It was an
astonishing tribute to the strength of tradition among troops. To
safeguard the honor of a famous name these men showed such dignity in
the presence of death that even the enemy must have been moved to
admiration.

But they had failed, after suffering heavy losses, and the Commander-
in-Chief had to call upon the French for help, realizing that without
strong assistance the salient made by that battle of Loos would be a
death-trap. The French Tenth Army had failed, too, at Vimy, thus
failing to give the British troops protection on their right flank.

"On representing this to General Joffre," wrote Sir John French, "he
was kind enough to ask the commander of the northern group of French
armies to render us assistance. General Foch met those demands in the
same friendly spirit which he has always displayed throughout the
course of the whole campaign, and expressed his readiness to give me
all the support he could. On the morning of the 28th we discussed the
situation, and the general agreed to send the 9th French Corps to take
over the ground occupied by us, extending from the French left up to
and including that portion of Hill 70 which we were holding, and also
the village of Loos. This relief was commenced on September 30th, and
completed on the two following nights."

So ended the battle of Loos, except for a violent counter--attack
delivered on October 8th all along the line from Fosse 8 on the north
to the right of the French 9th Corps on the south, with twenty-eight
battalions in the first line of assault. It was preceded by a
stupendous bombardment which inflicted heavy casualties upon our 1st
Division in the neighborhood of the chalk-pit, and upon the Guards
holding the Hohenzollern redoubt near Hulluch. Once again those
brigades, which had been sorely tried, had to crouch under a fury of
fire, until the living were surrounded by dead, half buried or carved
up into chunks of flesh in the chaos of broken trenches. The Germans
had their own shambles, more frightful, we were told, than ours, and
thousands of dead lay in front of our lines when the tide of their
attack ebbed back and waves of living men were broken by the fire of
our field-guns, rifles, and machine-guns. Sir John French's staff
estimated the number of German dead as from eight to nine thousand. It
was impossible to make any accurate sum in that arithmetic of
slaughter, and always the enemy's losses were exaggerated because of
the dreadful need of balancing accounts in new-made corpses in that
Debit and Credit of war's bookkeeping.

What had we gained by great sacrifices of life? Not Lens, nor Lille,
nor even Hill 70 (for our line had to be withdrawn from those bloody
slopes where our men left many of their dead), but another sharp-edged
salient enfiladed by German guns for two years more, and a foothold on
one slag heap of the Double Crassier, where our men lived, if they
could, a few yards from Germans on the other; and that part of the
Hohenzollern redoubt which became another Hooge where English youth
was blown up by mines, buried by trench-mortars, condemned to a living
death in lousy caves dug into the chalk. Another V-shaped salient,
narrower than that of Ypres, more dismal, and as deadly, among the
pit-heads and the black dust hills and the broken mine-shafts of that
foul country beyond Loos.

The battle which had been begun with such high hopes ended in ghastly
failure by ourselves and by the French. Men who came back from it
spoke in whispers of its generalship and staff work, and said things
which were dangerous to speak aloud, cursing their fate as fighting-
men, asking of God as well as of mortals why the courage of the
soldiers they led should be thrown away in such a muck of slaughter,
laughing with despairing mirth at the optimism of their leaders, who
had been lured on by a strange, false, terrible belief in German
weakness, and looking ahead at unending vistas of such massacre as
this which would lead only to other salients, after desperate and
futile endeavor.




Part Four


A WINTER OF DISCONTENT


I


The winter of 1915 was, I think, the worst of all. There was a settled
hopelessness in it which was heavy in the hearts of men--ours and the
enemy's. In 1914 there was the first battle of Ypres, when the bodies
of British soldiers lay strewn in the fields beyond this city and
their brown lines barred the way to Calais, but the war did not seem
likely to go on forever. Most men believed, even then, that it would
end quickly, and each side had faith in some miracle that might
happen. In 1916-17 the winter was foul over the fields of the Somme
after battles which had cut all our divisions to pieces and staggered
the soul of the world by the immense martyrdom of boys--British,
French, and German--on the western front. But the German retreat from
the Somme to the shelter of their Hindenburg line gave some respite to
our men, and theirs, from the long-drawn fury of attack and counter-
attack, and from the intensity of gun-fire. There was at best the
mirage of something like victory on our side, a faint flickering up of
the old faith that the Germans had weakened and were nearly spent.

But for a time in those dark days of 1915 there was no hope ahead. No
mental dope by which our fighting-men could drug themselves into
seeing a vision of the war's end.

The battle of Loos and its aftermath of minor massacres in the ground
we had gained--he new horror of that new salient--had sapped into the
confidence of those battalion officers and men who had been assured of
German weakness by cheery, optimistic, breezy-minded generals. It was
no good some of those old gentlemen saying, "We've got 'em beat!" when
from Hooge to the Hohenzollern redoubt our men sat in wet trenches
under ceaseless bombardment of heavy guns, and when any small attack
they made by the orders of a High Command which believed in small
attacks, without much plan or purpose, was only "asking for trouble"
from German counterattacks by mines, trench-mortars, bombing sorties,
poison-gas, flame-throwers, and other forms of frightfulness which
made a dirty mess of flesh and blood, without definite result on
either side beyond piling up the lists of death.

"It keeps up the fighting spirit of the men," said the generals. "We
must maintain an aggressive policy."

They searched their trench maps for good spots where another "small
operation" might be organized. There was a competition among the corps
and divisional generals as to the highest number of raids, mine
explosions, trench-grabbings undertaken by their men.

"My corps," one old general told me over a cup of tea in his
headquarters mess, "beats the record for raids." His casualties also
beat the record, and many of his officers and men called him, just
bluntly and simply, "Our old murderer." They disliked the necessity of
dying so that he might add one more raid to his heroic competition
with the corps commander of the sector on the left. When they waited
for the explosion of a mine which afterward they had to "rush" in a
race with the German bombing-parties, some of them saw no sense in the
proceeding, but only the likelihood of having legs and arms torn off
by German stick-bombs or shells. "What's the good of it?" they asked,
and could find no answer except the satisfaction of an old man
listening to the distant roar of the new tumult by which he had
"raised hell" again.




II


The autumn of 1915 was wet in Flanders and Artois, where our men
settled down--knee-deep where the trenches were worst--for the winter
campaign. On rainy days, as I remember, a high wind hurtled over the
Flemish fields, but it was moist, and swept gusts of rain into the
faces of men marching through mud to the fighting-lines and of other
men doing sentry on the fire-steps of trenches into which water came
trickling down the slimy parapets.

When the wind dropped at dusk or dawn a whitish fog crept out of the
ground, so that rifles were clammy to the touch and a blanket of
moisture settled on every stick in the dugouts, and nothing could be
seen through the veil of vapor to the enemy's lines, where he stayed
invisible.

He was not likely to attack on a big scale while the battlefields were
in that quagmire state. An advancing wave of men would have been
clogged in the mud after the first jump over the slimy sand-bags, and
to advance artillery was sheer impossibility. Nothing would be done on
either side but stick-in-the-mud warfare and those trench-raids and
minings which had no object except "to keep up the spirit of the men."
There was always work to do in the trenches--draining them,
strengthening their parapets, making their walls, tiling or boarding
their floorways, timbering the dugouts, and after it was done another
rainstorm or snowstorm undid most of it, and the parapets slid down,
the water poured in, and spaces were opened for German machine-gun
fire, and there was less head cover against shrapnel bullets which
mixed with the raindrops, and high explosives which smashed through
the mud. The working parties had a bad time and a wet one, in spite of
waders and gum boots which were served out to lucky ones. Some of them
wore a new kind of hat, seen for the first time, and greeted with
guffaws--the "tin" hat which later became the headgear of all
fighting-men. It saved many head wounds, but did not save body wounds,
and every day the casualty lists grew longer in the routine of a
warfare in which there was "Nothing to report."

Our men were never dry. They were wet in their trenches and wet in
their dugouts. They slept in soaking clothes, with boots full of
water, and they drank rain with their tea, and ate mud with their
"bully," and endured it all with the philosophy of "grin and bear it!"
and laughter, as I heard them laughing in those places between
explosive curses.

On the other side of the barbed wire the Germans were more miserable,
not because their plight was worse, but because I think they lacked
the English sense of humor. In some places they had the advantage of
our men in better trenches, with better drains and dugouts--due to an
industry with which ours could never compete. Here and there, as in
the ground to the north of Hooge, they were in a worse state, with
such rivers in their trenches that they went to enormous trouble to
drain the Bellewarde Lake which used to slop over in the rainy season.
Those field-gray men had to wade through a Slough of Despond to get to
their line, and at night by Hooge where the lines were close together-
-only a few yards apart--our men could hear their boots squelching in
the mud with sucking, gurgling noises.

"They're drinking soup again!" said our humorists.

There, at Hooge, Germans and English talked to one another, out of
their common misery.

"How deep is it with you?" shouted a German soldier.

His voice came from behind a pile of sand-bags which divided the enemy
and ourselves in a communication trench between the main lines.

"Up to our blooming knees," said an English corporal, who was trying
to keep his bombs dry under a tarpaulin.

"So? . . . You are lucky fellows. We are up to our belts in it."

It was so bad in parts of the line during November storms that whole
sections of trench collapsed into a chaos of slime and ooze. It was
the frost as well as the rain which caused this ruin, making the
earthworks sink under their weight of sand-bags. German and English
soldiers were exposed to one another like ants upturned from their
nests by a minor landslide. They ignored one another. They pretended
that the other fellows were not there. They had not been properly
introduced. In another place, reckless because of their discomfort,
the Germans crawled upon their slimy parapets and sat on top to dry
their legs, and shouted: "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!"

Our men did not shoot. They, too, sat on the parapets drying their
legs, and grinning at the gray ants yonder, until these incidents were
reported back to G. H. Q.--where good fires were burning under dry
roofs--and stringent orders came against "fraternization." Every
German who showed himself was to be shot. Of course any Englishman who
showed himself--owing to a parapet falling in--would be shot, too. It
was six of one and half a dozen of the other, as always, in this
trench warfare, but the dignity of G. H. Q. would not be outraged by
the thought of such indecent spectacles as British and Germans
refusing to kill each other on sight. Some of the men obeyed orders,
and when a German sat up and said, "Don't shoot!" plugged him through
the head. Others were extremely short-sighted. . . Now and again
Germans crawled over to our trenches and asked meekly to be taken
prisoner. I met a few of these men and spoke with them.

"There is no sense in this war," said one of them. "It is misery on
both sides. There is no use in it."

That thought of war's futility inspired an episode which was narrated
throughout the army in that winter of '15, and led to curious
conversations in dugouts and billets. Above a German front-line trench
appeared a plank on which, in big letters, was scrawled these words

"The English are fools."

"Not such bloody fools as all that!" said a sergeant, and in a few
minutes the plank was smashed to splinters by rifle-fire.

Another plank appeared, with other words:

"The French are fools."

Loyalty to our allies caused the destruction of that board.

A third plank was put up:

"We're all fools. Let's all go home."

That board was also shot to pieces, but the message caused some
laughter, and men repeating it said: "There's a deal of truth in those
words. Why should this go on? What's it all about? Let the old men who
made this war come and fight it out among themselves, at Hooge. The
fighting-men have no real quarrel with one another. We all want to go
home to our wives and our work."

But neither side was prepared to "go home" first. Each side was in a
trap--a devil's trap from which there was no escape. Loyalty to their
own side, discipline, with the death penalty behind it, spell words of
old tradition, obedience to the laws of war or to the caste which
ruled them, all the moral and spiritual propaganda handed out by
pastors, newspapers, generals, staff-officers, old men at home,
exalted women, female furies, a deep and simple love for England and
Germany, pride of manhood, fear of cowardice--a thousand complexities
of thought and sentiment prevented men, on both sides, from breaking
the net of fate in which they were entangled, and revolting against
that mutual, unceasing massacre, by a rising from the trenches with a
shout of, "We're all fools! . . . Let's all go home!"

In Russia they did so, but the Germans did not go home, too. As an
army and a nation they went on to the Peace of Brest-Litovsk and their
doom. But many German soldiers were converted to that gospel of "We're
all fools!" and would not fight again with any spirit, as we found at
times, after August 8th, in the last year of war.




III


The men remained in the trenches, and suffered horribly. I have told
about lice and rats and mine-shafts there. Another misery came to
torture soldiers in the line, and it was called "trench-foot." Many
men standing in slime for days and nights in field boots or puttees
lost all sense of feeling in their feet. These feet of theirs, so cold
and wet, began to swell, and then to go "dead," and then suddenly to
burn as though touched by red-hot pokers. When the "reliefs" went up
scores of men could not walk back from the trenches, but had to crawl,
or be carried pick-a-back by their comrades, to the field dressing
stations. So I saw hundreds of them, and, as the winter dragged on,
thousands. The medical officers cut off their boots and their puttees,
and the socks that had become part of their skins, exposing blackened
and rotting feet. They put oil on them, and wrapped them round with
cotton-wool, and tied labels to their tunics with the name of that new
disease--"trench-foot." Those medical officers looked serious as the
number of cases increased.

"This is getting beyond a joke," they said. "It is pulling down the
battalion strength worse than wounds."

Brigadiers and divisional generals were gloomy, and cursed the new
affliction of their men. Some of them said it was due to damned
carelessness, others were inclined to think it due to deliberate
malingering at a time when there were many cases of self-inflicted
wounds by men who shot their fingers away, or their toes, to get out
of the trenches.

There was no look of malingering on the faces of those boys who were
being carried pick-a-back to the ambulance-trains at Remy siding, near
Poperinghe, with both feet crippled and tied up in bundles of cotton-
wool. The pain was martyrizing, like that of men tied to burning
fagots for conscience' sake. In one battalion of the 49th (West
Riding) Division there were over four hundred cases in that winter of
'15. Other battalions in the Ypres salient suffered as much.

It was not until the end of the winter, when oil was taken up to the
trenches and rubbing drill was ordered, two or three times a day, that
the malady of trench-foot was reduced, and at last almost eliminated.

The spirit of the men fought against all that misery, resisted it, and
would not be beaten by it.

A sergeant of the West Riding Division was badly wounded as he stood
thigh-high in water. A bomb or a trench-mortar smashed one of his legs
into a pulp of bloody flesh and splintered bone. Word was passed down
to the field ambulance, and a surgeon came up, splashed to the neck in
mud, with his instruments held high. The operation was done in the
water, red with the blood of the wounded man, who was then brought
down, less a leg, to the field hospital. He was put on one side as a
man about to die. . . But that evening he chattered cheerfully, joked
with the priest who came to anoint him, and wrote a letter to his
wife.

"I hope this will find you in the pink, as it leaves me," he began. He
mentioned that he had had an "accident" which had taken one of his
legs away. "But the youngsters will like to play with my wooden peg,"
he wrote, and discussed the joke of it. The people round his bed
marveled at him, though day after day they saw great courage; such
courage as that of another man who was brought in mortally wounded and
lay next to a comrade on the operating table.

"Stick it, lad!" he said, "stick it!" and turned his head a little to
look at his friend.

Many of our camps were hardly better than the trenches. Only by duck-
boards could one walk about the morass in which huts were built and
tents were pitched. In the wagon lines gunners tried in vain to groom
their horses, and floundered about in their gum boots, cursing the mud
which clogged bits and chains and bridles, and could find no comfort
anywhere between Dickebusch and Locre.




IV


The Hohenzollern redoubt, near Fosse 8, captured by the 9th Scottish
Division in the battle of Loos, could not be held then under
concentrated gun-fire from German batteries, and the Scots, and the
Guards who followed them, after heavy losses, could only cling on to
part of a communication trench (on the southeast side of the
earthworks) nicknamed "Big Willie," near another trench called "Little
Willie." Our enemies forced their way back into some of their old
trenches in this outpost beyond their main lines, and in spite of the
chaos produced by our shell-fire built up new parapets and sand-bag
barricades, flung out barbed wire, and dug themselves into this
graveyard where their dead and ours were strewn.

Perhaps there was some reason why our generals should covet possession
of the Hohenzollern redoubt, some good military reason beyond the
spell of a high-sounding name. I went up there one day when it was
partly ours and stared at its rigid waves of mine-craters and trench
parapets and upheaved chalk, dazzling white under a blue sky, and
failed to see any beauty in the spot, or any value in it--so close to
the German lines that one could not cough for fear of losing one's
head. It seemed to me a place not to gain and not to hold. If I had
been a general (appalling thought!) I should have said: "Let the enemy
have that little hell of his. Let men live there among half-buried
bodies and crawling lice, and the stench of rotting flesh. There is no
good in it for us, and for him will be an abomination, dreaded by his
men."

But our generals desired it. They hated to think that the enemy should
have crawled back to it after our men had been there. They decided to
"bite it off," that blunt nose which was thrust forward to our line.
It was an operation that would be good to report in the official
communique. Its capture would, no doubt, increase the morale of our
men after their dead had been buried and their wounded patched up and
their losses forgotten.

It was to the 46th Midland Division that the order of assault was
given on October 13th, and into the trenches went the lace-makers of
Nottingham, and the potters of the Five Towns, and the boot-makers of
Leicester, North Staffordshires, and Robin Hoods and Sherwood
Foresters, on the night of the 12th.

On the following morning our artillery concentrated a tremendous fire
upon the redoubt, followed at 1 P.M. by volumes of smoke and gas. The
chief features on this part of the German line were, on the right, a
group of colliers' houses known as the Corons de Pekin, and a slag
heap known as the Dump, to the northeast of that bigger dump called
Fosse 8, and on the left another group of cottages, and another black
hillock farther to the right of the Fosse. These positions were in
advance of the Hohenzollern redoubt which our troops were to attack.

It was not an easy task. It was hellish. Intense as our artillery fire
had been, it failed to destroy the enemy's barbed wire and front
trenches sufficiently to clear the way, and the Germans were still
working their machine-guns when the fuses were lengthened, the fire
lifted, and the gas-clouds rolled away.

I saw that bombardment on the morning of Wednesday, October 13th, and
the beginning of the attack from a slag heap close to some of our
heavy guns. It was a fine, clear day, and some of the French miners
living round the pit-heads on our side of the battle line climbed up
iron ladders and coal heaps, roused to a new interest in the spectacle
of war which had become a monotonous and familiar thing in their
lives, because the intensity of our gun-fire and the volumes of smoke-
clouds, and a certain strange, whitish vapor which was wafted from our
lines toward the enemy stirred their imagination, dulled by the daily
din of guns, to a sense of something beyond the usual flight of shells
in their part of the war zone.

"The English are attacking again!" was the message which brought out
these men still living among ruined cottages on the edge of the
slaughter-fields. They stared into the mist, where, beyond the
brightness of the autumn sun, men were about to fight and die. It was
the same scene that I had watched when I went up to the Loos redoubt
in the September battle--a flat, bare, black plain, crisscrossed with
the whitish earth of the trenches rising a little toward Loos and then
falling again so that in the village there only the Tower Bridge was
visible, with its steel girders glinting, high over the horizon line.
To the left the ruins of Hulluch fretted the low-lying clouds of
smoke, and beyond a huddle of broken houses far away was the town of
Haisnes. Fosse 8 and the Hohenzollern redoubt were hummocks of earth
faintly visible through drifting clouds of thick, sluggish vapor.

On the edge of this battleground the fields were tawny under the
golden light of the autumn sun, and the broken towers of village
churches, red roofs shattered by shell-fire, trees stripped bare of
all leaves before the wind of autumn touched them, were painted in
clear outlines against the gray-blue of the sky.

Our guns had been invisible. Not one of all those batteries which were
massed over a wide stretch of country could be located before the
battle by a searching glass. But when the bombardment began it seemed
as though our shells came from every field and village for miles back,
behind the lines.

The glitter of those bursting shells stabbed through the smoke of
their explosion with little, twinkling flashes, like the sparkle of
innumerable mirrors heliographing messages of death. There was one
incessant roar rising and falling in waves of prodigious sound. The
whole line of battle was in a grayish murk, which obscured all
landmarks, so that even the Tower Bridge was but faintly visible.

Presently, when our artillery lifted, there were new clouds rising
from the ground and spreading upward in a great dense curtain of a
fleecy texture. They came from our smoke-shells, which were to mask
our infantry attack. Through them and beyond them rolled another wave
of cloud, a thinner, whiter vapor, which clung to the ground and then
curled forward to the enemy's lines.

"That's our gas!" said a voice on one of the slag heaps, amid a group
of observers--English and French officers.

"And the wind is dead right for it," said another voice. "The Germans
will get a taste of it this time!"

Then there was silence, and some of those observers held their breath
as though that gas had caught their own throats and choked them a
little. They tried to pierce through that bar of cloud to see the
drama behind its curtain--men caught in those fumes, the terror-
stricken flight before its advance, the sudden cry of the enemy
trapped in their dugouts. Imagination leaped out, through
invisibility, to the realization of the things that were happening
beyond.

From our place of observation there were brief glimpses of the human
element in this scene of impersonal powers and secret forces. Across a
stretch of flat ground beyond some of those zigzag lines of trenches
little black things were scurrying forward. They were not bunched
together in close groups, but scattered. Some of them seemed to
hesitate, and then to fall and lie where they fell, others hurrying on
until they disappeared in the drifting clouds.

It was the foremost line of our infantry attack, led by the bombers.
The Germans were firing tempests of shells. Some of them were
curiously colored, of a pinkish hue, or with orange-shaped puffs of
vivid green. They were poison-shells giving out noxious gases. All the
chemistry of death was poured out on both sides--and through it went
the men of the Midland Division.

The attack on the right was delivered by a brigade of Staffordshire
men, who advanced in four lines toward the Big Willie trench which
formed the southeast side of the Hohenzollern redoubt. The leading
companies, who were first over our own parapets, made a quick rush,
half blinded by the smoke and the gaseous vapors which filled the air,
and were at once received by a deadly fire from many machine-guns. It
swept their ranks, and men fell on all sides. Others ran on in little
parties flung out in extended order.

Young officers behaved with desperate gallantry, and as they fell
cheered their men on, while others ran forward shouting, followed by
numbers which dwindled at every yard, so that only a few reached the
Big Willie trench in the first assault.

A bombing-party of North Staffordshire men cleared thirty yards of the
trench by the rapidity with which they flung their hand-grenades at
the German bombers who endeavored to keep them out, and again and
again they kept at bay a tide of field-gray men, who swarmed up the
communication trenches, by a series of explosions which blew many of
them to bits as bomb after bomb was hurled into their mass. Other
Germans followed, flinging their own stick-bombs.

The Staffordshires did not yield until nearly every man was wounded
and many were killed. Even then they retreated yard by yard, still
flinging grenades almost with the rhythm of a sower who scatters his
seed, each motion of the hand and arm letting go one of those steel
pomegranates which burst with the noise of a high-explosive shell.

The survivors fell back to the other side of a barricade made in the
Big Willie trench by some of their men behind. Behind them again was
another barrier, in case the first should be rushed.

It seemed as if they might be rushed now, for the Germans were
swarming up Big Willie with strong bombing-parties, and would soon
blast a way through unless they were thrust beyond the range of hand-
grenades. It was a young lieutenant named Hawker, with some South
Staffordshire men, who went forward to meet this attack and kept the
enemy back until four o'clock in the afternoon, when only a few living
men stood among the dead and they had to fall back to the second
barrier.

Darkness now crept over the battlefield and filled the trenches, and
in the darkness the wounded men were carried back to the rear, while
those who had escaped worked hard to strengthen their defenses by
sand-bags and earthworks, knowing that their only chance of life lay
in fierce industry.

Early next morning an attempt was made by other battalions to come to
the relief of those who held on behind those barriers in Big Willie
trench. They were Nottingham men--Robin Hoods and other Sherwood lads-
-and they came across the open ground in two directions, attacking the
west as well as the east ends of the German communication trenches
which formed the face of the Hohenzollern redoubt.

They were supported by rifle grenade-fire, but their advance was met
by intense fire from artillery and machine-guns, so that many were
blown to bits or mangled or maimed, and none could reach their
comrades in Big Willie trench.

While one brigade of the Midland men had been fighting like this on
the right, another brigade had been engaged on the left. It contained
Sherwood, Leicester, and Lincoln men, who, on the afternoon of October
13th, went forward to the assault with very desperate endeavor.
Advancing in four lines, the leading companies were successful in
reaching the Hohenzollern redoubt, smashed through the barbed wire,
part of which was uncut, and reached the Fosse trench which forms the
north base of the salient.

Machine-gun fire cut down the first two lines severely and the two
remaining lines were heavily shelled by German artillery. It was an
hour in which the courage of those men was agonized. They were exposed
on naked ground swept by bullets, the atmosphere was heavy with gas
and smoke; all the abomination of battle--he moaning of the wounded,
the last cries of the dying, the death-crawl of stricken beings
holding their broken limbs and their entrails--was around them, and in
front a hidden enemy with unlimited supplies of ammunition and a
better position.

The Robin Hoods and the men of Lincoln and Leicestershire were
sustained in that shambles by the spirit that had come to them through
the old yeoman stock in which their traditions were rooted, and those
who had not fallen went forward, past their wounded comrades, past
these poor, bloody, moaning men, to the German trenches behind the
redoubt.

At 2.15 P.M. some Monmouth men came up in support, and while their
bombers were at work some of the Lincolns pushed up with a machine-gun
to a point within sixty yards from the Fosse trench, where they stayed
till dark, and then were forced to fall back.

At this time parties of bombers were trying to force their way up the
Little Willie trench on the extreme left of the redoubt, and here
ghastly fighting took place. Some of the Leicesters made a dash three
hundred yards up the trench, but were beaten back by overpowering
numbers of German bombers and bayonet-men, and again and again other
Midland lads went up that alleyway of death, flinging their grenades
until they fell or until few comrades were left to support them as
they stood among their dead and dying.

Single men held on, throwing and throwing, until there was no strength
in their arms to hurl another bomb, or until death came to them. Yet
the business went on through the darkness of the afternoon, and into
the deeper darkness of the night, lit luridly at moments by the white
illumination of German flares and by the flash of bursting shells.

Isolated machine-guns in uncaptured parts of the redoubt still beat a
tattoo like the ruffle of war-drums, and from behind the barriers in
the Big Willie trench came the sharp crack of English rifles, and dull
explosions of other bombs flung by other Englishmen very hard pressed
that night.

In the outer trenches, at the nose of the salient, fresh companies of
Sherwood lads were feeling their way along, mixed up confusedly with
comrades from other companies, wounded or spent with fighting, but
determined to hold the ground they had won.

Some of the Robin Hoods up Little Willie trench were holding out
desperately and almost at the last gasp, when they were relieved by
other Sherwoods, and it was here that a young officer named Vickers
was found in the way that won him his V.C.

Charles Geoffrey Vickers stood there for hours against a horde of men
eager for his death, eager to get at the men behind him. But they
could not approach. He and his fellow-bombers kept twenty yards or
more clear before them, and any man who flung himself forward was the
target of a hand-grenade.

From front and from flank German bombs came whizzing, falling short
sometimes, with a blasting roar that tore down lumps of trench, and
sometimes falling very close--close enough to kill.

Vickers saw some of his best men fall, but he kept the barrier still
intact by bombing and bombing.

When many of his comrades were dead or wounded, he wondered how long
the barrier would last, and gave orders for another to be built behind
him, so that when the rush came it would be stopped behind him--and
over him.

Men worked at that barricade, piling up sand-bags, and as it was built
that young lieutenant knew that his own retreat was being cut off and
that he was being coffined in that narrow space. Two other men were
with him--I never learned their names--and they were hardly enough to
hand up bombs as quickly as he wished to throw them.

Away there up the trench the Germans were waiting for a pounce. Though
wounded so that he felt faint and giddy, he called out for more bombs.
"More!" he said, "More!" and his hand was like a machine reaching out
and throwing.

Rescue came at last, and the wounded officer was hauled over the
barricade which he had ordered to be built behind him, closing up his
way of escape.

All through October 14th the Midland men of the 46th Division held on
to their ground, and some of the Sherwoods made a new attack, clearing
the enemy out of the east portion of the redoubt.

It was lucky that it coincided with a counter-attack made by the enemy
at a different point, because it relieved the pressure there. Bombing
duels continued hour after hour, and human nature could hardly have
endured so long a struggle without fatigue beyond the strength of men.

So it seems; yet when a brigade of Guards came up on the night of
October 15th the enemy attacked along the whole line of redoubts, and
the Midland men, who were just about to leave the trenches, found
themselves engaged in a new action. They had to fight again before
they could go, and they fought like demons or demigods for their right
of way and home, and bombed the enemy back to his holes in the ground.

So ended the assault on the Hohenzollern by the Midland men of
England, whose division, years later, helped to break the Hindenburg
line along the great canal south of St.-Quentin.

What good came of it mortal men cannot say, unless the generals who
planned it hold the secret. It cost a heavy price in life and agony.
It demonstrated the fighting spirit of many English boys who did the
best they could, with the rage, and fear, and madness of great
courage, before they died or fell, and it left some living men, and
others who relieved them in Big Willie and Little Willie trenches, so
close to the enemy that one could hear them cough, or swear in
guttural whispers.

And through the winter of '15, and the years that followed, the
Hohenzollern redoubt became another Hooge, as horrible as Hooge, as
deadly, as damnable in its filthy perils, where men of English blood,
and Irish, and Scottish, took their turn, and hated it, and counted
themselves lucky if they escaped from its prison-house, whose walls
stank of new and ancient death.

*    *    *

Among those who took their turn in the hell of the Hohenzollern were
the men of the 12th Division, New Army men, and all of the old stock
and spirit of England, bred in the shires of Norfolk and Suffolk,
Gloucester and Bedford, and in Surrey, Kent, Sussex, and Middlesex
(which meant London), as the names of their battalions told. In
September they relieved the Guards and cavalry at Loos; in December
they moved on to Givenchy, and in February they began a long spell at
the Hohenzollern. It was there the English battalions learned the
worst things of war and showed the quality of English courage.

A man of Kent, named Corporal Cotter, of the Buffs, was marvelous in
spirit, stronger than the flesh.

On the night of March 6th an attack was made by his company along an
enemy trench, but his own bombing--party was cut off, owing to heavy
casualties in the center of the attack. Things looked serious and
Cotter went back under heavy fire to report and bring up more bombs.

On the return journey his right leg was blown off close below the knee
and he was wounded in both arms. By a kind of miracle--the miracle of
human courage--he did not drop down and die in the mud of the trench,
mud so deep that unwounded men found it hard to walk--but made his way
along fifty yards of trench toward the crater where his comrades were
hard pressed. He came up to Lance-corporal Newman, who was bombing
with his sector to the right of the position. Cotter called to him and
directed him to bomb six feet toward where help was most needed, and
worked his way forward to the crater where the Germans had developed a
violent counter-attack.

Men fell rapidly under the enemy's bomb-fire, but Cotter, with only
one leg, and bleeding from both arms, steadied his comrades, who were
beginning to have the wind-up, as they say, issued orders, controlled
the fire, and then altered dispositions to meet the attack. It was
repulsed after two hours' fighting, and only then did Cotter allow his
wounds to be bandaged. From the dug--out where he lay while the
bombardment still continued he called out cheery words to the men,
until he was carried down, fourteen hours later. He received the V.
C., but died of his wounds.

Officers and men vied with one another, yet not for honor or reward,
round these craters of the Hohenzollern, and in the mud, and the fumes
of shells, and rain-swept darkness, and all the black horror of such a
time and place, sometimes in groups and sometimes quite alone, did
acts of supreme valor. When all the men in one of these infernal
craters were dead or wounded Lieut. Lea Smith, of the Buffs, ran
forward with a Lewis gun, helped by Private Bradley, and served it
during a fierce attack by German bombers until it jammed.

Then he left the gun and took to bombing, and that single figure of
his, flinging grenades like an overarm bowler, kept the enemy at bay
until reinforcements reached him.

Another officer of the Buff's--by name Smeltzer--withdrew his platoon
under heavy fire, and, although he was wounded, fought his way back
slowly to prevent the enemy from following up. The men were proud of
his gallantry, but when he was asked what he had done he could think
of nothing except that "when the Boches began shelling I got into a
dugout, and when they stopped I came out again."

There were many men like that who did amazing things and, in the
English way, said nothing of them. Of that modesty was Capt. Augrere
Dawson, of the West Kents, who did not bother much about a bullet he
met on his way to a crater, though it traveled through his chest to
his shoulder-blade. He had it dressed, and then went back to lead his
men, and remained with them until the German night attack was
repulsed. He was again wounded, this time in the thigh, but did not
trouble the stretcher-men (they had a lot to do on the night of March
18th and 19th), and trudged back alone.

It was valor that was paid for by flesh and blood. The honors gained
by the 12th Division in a few months of trench warfare--one V. C.,
sixteen D. S. C.'s, forty-five Military Crosses, thirty-four Military
Medals--were won by the loss in casualties of more than fourteen
thousand men. That is to say, the losses of their division in that
time, made up by new drafts, was 100 per cent.; and the Hohenzollern
took the highest toll of life and limbs.




V


I heard no carols in the trenches on Christmas Eve in 1915, but
afterward, when I sat with a pint of water in each of my top-boots,
among a company of men who were wet to the knees and slathered with
moist mud, a friend of mine raised his hand and said, "Listen!"

Through the open door came the music of a mouth--organ, and it was
playing an old tune:

God rest ye, merry gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay, For Jesus
Christ, our Saviour, Was born on Christmas Day.

Outside the wind was howling across Flanders with a doleful whine,
rising now and then into a savage violence which rattled the window-
panes, and beyond the booming of its lower notes was the faint, dull
rumble of distant guns.

"Christmas Eve!" said an officer. "Nineteen hundred and fifteen years
ago . . . and now--this!"

He sighed heavily, and a few moments later told a funny story, which
was followed by loud laughter. And so it was, I think, in every billet
in Flanders and in every dugout that Christmas Eve, where men thought
of the meaning of the day, with its message of peace and goodwill, and
contrasted it with the great, grim horror of the war, and spoke a few
words of perplexity; and then, after that quick sigh (how many
comrades had gone since last Christmas Day!), caught at a jest, and
had the courage of laughter. It was queer to find the spirit of
Christmas, the little tendernesses of the old tradition, the toys and
trinkets of its feast-day, in places where Death had been busy--and
where the spirit of evil lay in ambush!

So it was when I went through Armentieres within easy range of the
enemy's guns. Already six hundred civilians--mostly women and
children--had been killed there. But, still, other women were chatting
together through broken window-panes, and children were staring into
little shops (only a few yards away from broken roofs and shell-broken
walls) where Christmas toys were on sale.

A wizened boy, in a pair of soldier's boots--a French Hop o' My Thumb
in the giant's boots--was gazing wistfully at some tin soldiers, and
inside the shop a real soldier, not a bit like the tin one, was buying
some Christmas cards worked by a French artist in colored wools for
the benefit of English Tommies, with the aid of a dictionary. Other
soldiers read their legends and laughed at them: "My heart is to you."
"Good luck." "To the success!" "Remind France."

The man who was buying the cards fumbled with French money, and looked
up sheepishly at me, as if shy of the sentiment upon which he was
spending it.

"The people at home will be glad of 'em," he said. "I s'pose one can't
forget Christmas altogether. Though it ain't the same thing out here."

Going in search of Christmas, I passed through a flooded countryside
and found only scenes of war behind the lines, with gunners driving
their batteries and limber down a road that had become a river-bed,
fountains of spray rising about their mules and wheels, military
motor-cars lurching in the mud beyond the pave, despatch-riders side-
slipping in a wild way through boggy tracks, supply--columns churning
up deep ruts.

And then into the trenches at Neuve Chapelle. If Santa Claus had come
that way, remembering those grown-up boys of ours, the old man with
his white beard must have lifted his red gown high--waist-high--when
he waded up some of the communication trenches to the firing-lines,
and he would have staggered and slithered, now with one top-boot deep
in sludge, now with the other slipping off the trench boards into five
feet of water, as I had to do, grasping with futile hands at slimy
sandbags to save a headlong plunge into icy water.

And this old man of peace, who loved all boys and the laughter of
youth, would have had to duck very low and make sudden bolts across
open spaces, where parapets and earthworks had silted down, in order
to avoid those sniping bullets which came snapping across the dead
ground from a row of slashed trees and a few scarred ruins on the edge
of the enemy's lines.

But sentiment of that sort was out of place in trenches less than a
hundred yards away from men lying behind rifles and waiting to kill.

There was no spirit of Christmas in the tragic desolation of the
scenery of which I had brief glimpses when I stood here and there
nakedly (I felt) in those ugly places, when the officer who was with
me said, "It's best to get a move on here," and, "This road is swept
by machine--gun fire," and, "I don't like this corner; it's quite
unhealthy."

But that absurd idea--of Santa Claus in the trenches--came into my
head several times, and I wondered whether the Germans would fire a
whizz-bang at him or give a burst of machine-gun fire if they caught
the glint of his red cloak.

Some of the soldiers had the same idea. In the front-line trench a
small group of Yorkshire lads were chaffing one another.

"Going to hang your boots up outside the dugout?" asked a lad,
grinning down at an enormous pair of waders belonging to a comrade.

"Likely, ain't it?" said the other boy. "Father Christmas would be a
bloody fool to come out here. . . They'd be full of water in the
morning."

"You'll get some presents," I said. "They haven't forgotten you at
home."

At that word "home" the boy flushed and something went soft in his
eyes for a moment. In spite of his steel helmet and mud-stained
uniform, he was a girlish-looking fellow--perhaps that was why his
comrades were chaffing him--and I fancy the thought of Christmas made
him yearn back to some village in Yorkshire.

Most of the other men with whom I spoke treated the idea of Christmas
with contemptuous irony.

"A happy Christmas!" said one of them, with a laugh. "Plenty of
crackers about this year! Tom Smith ain't in it."

"And I hope we're going to give the Boches some Christmas presents,"
said another. "They deserve it, I don't think!"

"No truce this year?" I asked.

"A truce? . . . We're not going to allow any monkey--tricks on the
parapets. To hell with Christmas charity and all that tosh. We've got
to get on with the war. That's my motto."

Other men said: "We wouldn't mind a holiday. We're fed up to the neck
with all this muck."

The war did not stop, although it was Christmas Eve, and the only
carol I heard in the trenches was the loud, deep chant of the guns on
both sides, and the shrill soprano of whistling shells, and the rattle
on the keyboards of machine-guns. The enemy was putting more shells
into a bit of trench in revenge for a raid. To the left some shrapnel
shells were bursting, and behind the lines our "heavies" were busily
at work firing at long range.

"On earth peace, good-will toward men."

The message was spoken at many a little service on both sides of that
long line where great armies were entrenched with their death-
machines, and the riddle of life and faith was rung out by the
Christmas bells which came clashing on the rain-swept wind, with the
reverberation of great guns.

Through the night our men in the trenches stood in their waders, and
the dawn of Christmas Day was greeted, not by angelic songs, but by
the splutter of rifle-bullets all along the line.




VI


There was more than half a gale blowing on the eve of the new year,
and the wind came howling with a savage violence across the rain-swept
fields, so that the first day of a fateful year had a stormy birth,
and there was no peace on earth.

Louder than the wind was the greeting of the guns to another year of
war. I heard the New-Year's chorus when I went to see the last of the
year across the battlefields. Our guns did not let it die in silence.
It went into the tomb of the past, with all its tragic memories, to
thunderous salvos, carrying death with them. The "heavies" were
indulging in a special strafe this New--Year's eve. As I went down a
road near the lines by Loos I saw, from concealed positions, the flash
of gun upon gun. The air was swept by an incessant rush of shells, and
the roar of all this artillery stupefied one's sense of sound. All
about me in the village of Annequin, through which I walked, there was
no other sound, no noise of human life. There were no New-Year's eve
rejoicings among those rows of miners' cottages on the edge of the
battlefield. Half those little red-brick houses were blown to pieces,
and when here and there through a cracked window-pane I saw a woman's
white face peering out upon me as I passed I felt as though I had seen
a ghost-face in some black pit of hell.

For it was hellish, this place wrecked by high explosives and always
under the fire of German guns. That any human being should be there
passed all belief. From a shell-hole in a high wall I looked across
the field of battle, where many of our best had died. The Tower Bridge
of Loos stood grim and gaunt above the sterile fields. Through the
rain and the mist loomed the long black ridge of Notre Dame de
Lorette, where many poor bodies lay in the rotting leaves. The ruins
of Haisnes and Hulluch were jagged against the sky-line. And here, on
New--Year's eve, I saw no sign of human life and heard no sound of it,
but stared at the broad desolation and listened to the enormous
clangor of great guns.

*     *     *

Coming back that day through Bethune I met some very human life. It
was a big party of bluejackets from the Grand Fleet, who had come to
see what "Tommy" was doing in the war. They went into the trenches and
saw a good deal, because the Germans made a bombing raid in that
sector and the naval men did their little bit by the side of the lads
in khaki, who liked this visit. They discovered the bomb store and
opened such a Brock's benefit that the enemy must have been shocked
with surprise. One young marine was bomb-slinging for four hours, and
grinned at the prodigious memory as though he had had the time of his
life. Another confessed to me that he preferred rifle-grenades, which
he fired off all night until the dawn. There was no sleep in the
dugouts, and every hour was a long thrill.

"I don't mind saying," said a petty officer who had fought in several
naval actions during the war and is a man of mark, "that I had a fair
fright when I was doing duty on the fire-step. 'I suppose I've got to
look through a periscope,' I said. 'Not you,' said the sergeant. 'At
night you puts your head over the parapet.' So over the parapet I put
my head, and presently I saw something moving between the lines. My
rifle began to shake. Germans! Moving, sure enough, over the open
ground. I fixed bayonet and prepared for an attack. . . But I'm
blessed if it wasn't a swarm of rats!"

The soldiers were glad to show Jack the way about the trenches, and
some of them played up a little audaciously, as, for instance, when a
young fellow sat on the top of the parapet at dawn.

"Come up and have a look, Jack," he said to one of the bluejackets.

"Not in these trousers, old mate!" said that young man.

"All as cool as cucumbers," said a petty officer, "and take the
discomforts of trench life as cheerily as any men could. It's
marvelous. Good luck to them in the new year!"

*     *     *

Behind the lines there was banqueting by men who were mostly doomed to
die, and I joined a crowd of them in a hall at Lillers on that New-
Year's day.

They were the heroes of Loos--or some of them--Camerons and Seaforths,
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Gordons and King's Own Scottish
Borderers, who, with the London men, were first on Hill 70 and away to
the Cite St.-Auguste. They left many comrades there, and their
battalions have been filled up with new drafts--of the same type as
themselves and of the same grit--but that day no ghost of grief, no
dark shadow of gloom, was upon any of the faces upon which I looked
round a festive board in a long, French hall, to which their wounded
came in those days of the September battle.

There were young men there from the Scottish universities and from
Highland farms, sitting shoulder to shoulder in a jolly comradeship
which burst into song between every mouthful of the feast. On the
platform above the banqueting-board a piper was playing, when I came
in, and this hall in France was filled with the wild strains of it.

"And they're grand, the pipes," said one of the Camerons. "When I've
been sae tired on the march I could have laid doon an' dee'd the touch
o' the pipes has fair lifted me up agen."

The piper made way for a Kiltie at the piano, and for Highlanders, who
sang old songs full of melancholy, which seemed to make the hearts of
his comrades grow glad as when they helped him with "The Bonnie,
Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond." But the roof nearly flew off the hall to
"The March of the Cameron Men," and the walls were greatly strained
when the regimental marching song broke at every verse into wild
Highland shouts and the war-cry which was heard at Loos of "Camerons,
forward!" "Forward, Camerons!"

"An Englishman is good," said one of the Camerons, leaning over the
table to me, "and an Irishman is good, but a Scot is the best of all."
Then he struck the palm of one hand with the fist of another. "But the
London men," he said, with a fine, joyous laugh at some good memory,
"are as good as any fighting-men in France. My word, ye should have
seen 'em on September 25th. And the London Irish were just lions!"

Out in the rain-slashed street I met the colonel of a battalion of
Argylls and Sutherlands, with several of his officers; a tall, thin
officer with a long stride, who was killed when another year had
passed. He beckoned to me and said: "I'm going the rounds of the
billets to wish the men good luck in the new year. It's a strain on
the constitution, as I have to drink their health each time!"

He bore the strain gallantly, and there was something noble and
chivalrous in the way he spoke to all his men, gathered together in
various rooms in old Flemish houses, round plum-pudding from home or
feasts provided by the army cooks. To each group of men he made the
same kind of speech, thanking them from his heart for all their
courage.

"You were thanked by three generals," he said, "after your attack at
Loos, and you upheld the old reputation of the regiment. I'm proud of
you. And afterward, in November, when you had the devil of a time in
the trenches, you stuck it splendidly and came out with high spirits.
I wish you all a happy new year, and whatever the future may bring I
know I can count on you."

In every billet there were three cheers for the colonel, and another
three for the staff captain, and though the colonel protested that he
was afraid of spending a night in the guard-room (there were shouts of
laughter at this), he drank his sip of neat whisky, according to the
custom of the day.

"Toodle-oo, old bird!" said a kilted cockney, halfway up a ladder, on
which he swayed perilously, being very drunk; but the colonel did not
hear this familiar way of address.

In many billets and in many halls the feast of New Year's day was kept
in good comradeship by men who had faced death together, and who in
the year that was coming fought in many battles and fell on many
fields.




VII


The Canadians who were in the Ypres salient in January, 1916, and for
a long time afterward, had a grim way of fighting. The enemy never
knew what they might do next. When they were most quiet they were most
dangerous. They used cunning as well as courage, and went out on red-
Indian adventures over No Man's Land for fierce and scientific
slaughter.

I remember one of their early raids in the salient, when a big party
of them--all volunteers--went out one night with intent to get through
the barbed wire outside a strong German position, to do a lot of
killing there. They had trained for the job and thought out every
detail of this hunting expedition. They blacked their faces so that
they would not show white in the enemy's flares. They fastened flash-
lamps to their bayonets so that they might see their victims. They
wore rubber gloves to save their hands from being torn on the barbs of
the wire.

Stealthily they crawled over No Man's Land, crouching in shell-holes
every time a rocket rose and made a glimmer of light. They took their
time at the wire, muffling the snap of it by bits of cloth. Reliefs
crawled up with more gloves, and even with tins of hot cocoa. Then
through the gap into the German trenches, and there were screams of
German soldiers, terror-shaken by the flash of light in their eyes,
and black faces above them, and bayonets already red with blood. It
was butcher's work, quick and skilful, like red-Indian scalping.
Thirty Germans were killed before the Canadians went back, with only
two casualties. . . The Germans were horrified by this sudden
slaughter. They dared not come out on patrol work. Canadian scouts
crawled down to them and insulted them, ingeniously, vilely, but could
get no answer. Later they trained their machine--guns on German
working-parties and swept crossroads on which supplies came up, and
the Canadian sniper, in one shell-hole or another, lay for hours in
sulky patience, and at last got his man. . . They had to pay for all
this, at Maple Copse, in June of '15, as I shall tell. But it was a
vendetta which did not end until the war ended, and the Canadians
fought the Germans with a long, enduring, terrible, skilful patience
which at last brought them to Mons on the day before armistice.

I saw a good deal of the Canadians from first to last, and on many
days of battle saw the tough, hard fighting spirit of these men. Their
generals believed in common sense applied to war, and not in high
mysteries and secret rites which cannot be known outside the circle of
initiation. I was impressed by General Currie, whom I met for the
first time in that winter of 1915-16, and wrote at the time that I saw
in him "a leader of men who in open warfare might win great victories
by doing the common-sense thing rapidly and decisively, to the
surprise of an enemy working by elaborate science. He would, I think,
astound them by the simplicity of his smashing stroke." Those words of
mine were fulfilled--on the day when the Canadians helped to break the
Drocourt-Queant line, and when they captured Cambrai, with English
troops on their right, who shared their success. General Currie, who
became the Canadian Corps Commander, did not spare his men. He led
them forward whatever the cost, but there was something great and
terrible in his simplicity and sureness of judgment, and this real--
estate agent (as he was before he took to soldiering) was undoubtedly
a man of strong ability, free from those trammels of red tape and
tradition which swathed round so many of our own leaders.

He cut clean to the heart of things, ruthlessly, like a surgeon, and
as I watched that man, immense in bulk, with a heavy, thoughtful face
and stern eyes that softened a little when he smiled, I thought of him
as Oliver Cromwell. He was severe as a disciplinarian, and not beloved
by many men. But his staff-officers, who stood in awe of him, knew
that he demanded truth and honesty, and that his brain moved quickly
to sure decisions and saw big problems broadly and with understanding.
He had good men with him--mostly amateurs--but with hard business
heads and the same hatred of red tape and niggling ways which belonged
to their chief. So the Canadian Corps became a powerful engine on our
side when it had learned many lessons in blood and tragedy. They
organized their publicity side in the same masterful way, and were
determined that what Canada did the world should know--and damn all
censorship. They bought up English artists, photographers, and
writing--men to record their exploits. With Lord Beaverbrook in
England they engineered Canadian propaganda with immense energy, and
Canada believed her men made up the British army and did all the
fighting. I do not blame them, and only wish that the English soldier
should have been given his share of the honors that belonged to him--
the lion's share.




VIII


The Canadians were not the only men to go out raiding. It became part
of the routine of war, that quick killing in the night, for English
and Scottish and Irish and Welsh troops, and some had luck with it,
and some men liked it, and to others it was a horror which they had to
do, and always it was a fluky, nervy job, when any accident might lead
to tragedy.

I remember one such raid by the 12th West Yorks in January of '15,
which was typical of many others, before raids developed into minor
battles, with all the guns at work.

There were four lieutenants who drew up the plan and called for
volunteers, and it was one of these who went out first and alone to
reconnoiter the ground and to find the best way through the German
barbed wire. He just slipped out over the parapet and disappeared into
the darkness. When he came back he had a wound in the wrist--it was
just the bad luck of a chance bullet--but brought in valuable
knowledge. He had found a gap in the enemy's wire which would give an
open door to the party of visitors. He had also tested the wire
farther along, and thought it could be cut without much bother.

"Good enough!" was the verdict, and a detachment started out for No
Man's Land, divided into two parties.

The enemy trenches were about one hundred yards away, which seems a
mile in the darkness and the loneliness of the dead ground. At regular
intervals the German rockets flared up so that the hedges and wire and
parapets along their line were cut out ink-black against the white
illumination, and the two patrols of Yorkshiremen who had been
crawling forward stopped and crouched lower and felt themselves
revealed, and then when darkness hid them again went on.

The party on the left were now close to the German wire and under the
shelter of a hedge. They felt their way along until the two subalterns
who were leading came to the gap which had been reported by the first
explorer. They listened intently and heard the German sentry stamping
his feet and pacing up and down. Presently he began to whistle softly,
utterly unconscious of the men so close to him--so close now that any
stumble, any clatter of arms, any word spoken, would betray them.

The two lieutenants had their revolvers ready and crept forward to the
parapet. The men had to act according to instinct now, for no order
could be given, and one of them found his instinct led him to clamber
right into the German trench a few yards away from the sentry, but on
the other side of the traverse. He had not been there long, holding
his breath and crouching like a wolf, before footsteps came toward him
and he saw the glint of a cigarette.

It was a German officer going his round. The Yorkshire boy sprang on
to the parapet again, and lay across it with his head toward our lines
and his legs dangling in the German trench. The German officer's cloak
brushed his heels, but the boy twisted round a little and stared at
him as he passed. But he passed, and presently the sentry began to
whistle again, some old German tune which cheered him in his
loneliness. He knew nothing of the eyes watching him through the
darkness nor of his nearness to death.

It was the first lieutenant who tried to shoot him. But the revolver
was muddy and would not fire. Perhaps a click disturbed the sentry.
Anyhow, the moment had come for quick work. It was the sergeant who
sprang upon him, down from the parapet with one pounce. A frightful
shriek, with the shrill agony of a boy's voice, wailed through the
silence. The sergeant had his hand about the German boy's throat and
tried to strangle him and to stop another dreadful cry.

The second officer made haste. He thrust his revolver close to the
struggling sentry and shot him dead, through the neck, just as he was
falling limp from a blow on the head given by the butt-end of the
weapon which had failed to fire. The bullet did its work, though it
passed through the sergeant's hand, which had still held the man by
the throat. The alarm had been raised and German soldiers were running
to the rescue.

"Quick!" said one of the officers.

There was a wild scramble over the parapet, a drop into the wet ditch,
and a race for home over No Man's Land, which was white under the
German flares and noisy with the waspish note of bullets.

The other party were longer away and had greater trouble to find a way
through, but they, too, got home, with one officer badly wounded, and
wonderful luck to escape so lightly. The enemy suffered from "the
jumps" for several nights afterward, and threw bombs into their own
barbed wire, as though the English were out there again. And at the
sound of those bombs the West Yorks laughed all along their trenches.




IX


It was always astonishing, though afterward familiar in those
battlefields of Flanders, to find oneself in the midst of so many
nationalities and races and breeds of men belonging to that British
family of ours which sent its sons to sacrifice. In those trenches
there were all the ways of speech, all the sentiment of place and
history, all the creeds and local customs and songs of old tradition
which belong to the mixture of our blood wherever it is found about
the world.

The skirl of the Scottish bagpipes was heard through all the years of
war over the Flemish marshlands, and there were Highlanders and
Lowlanders with every dialect over the border. In one line of trenches
the German soldiers listened to part-songs sung in such trained
harmony that it was as if a battalion of opera-singers had come into
the firing-line. The Welshmen spoke their own language. For a time no
officer received his command unless he spoke it as fluently as running
water by Aberystwyth, and even orders were given in this tongue until
a few Saxons, discovered in the ranks, failed to form fours and know
their left hand from their right in Welsh.

The French-Canadians did not need to learn the language of the
peasants in these market towns. Soldiers from Somerset used many old
Saxon words which puzzled their cockney friends, and the Lancashire
men brought the northern bur with them and the grit of the northern
spirit. And Ireland, though she would not have conscription, sent some
of the bravest of her boys out there, and in all the bloodiest battles
since that day at Mons the old fighting qualities of the Irish race
shone brightly again, and the blood of her race has been poured out
upon these tragic fields.

One of the villages behind the lines of Arras was so crowded with
Irish boys at the beginning of '16 that I found it hard not to believe
that a part of old Ireland itself had found its way to Flanders. In
one old outhouse the cattle had not been evicted. Twelve Flemish cows
lay cuddled up together on the ground floor in damp straw, which gave
out a sweet, sickly stench, while the Irish soldiers lived upstairs in
the loft, to which they climbed up a tall ladder with broken rungs.

I went up the ladder after them--it was very shaky in the middle--and,
putting my head through the loft, gave a greeting to a number of dark
figures lying in the same kind of straw that I had smelled downstairs.
One boy was sitting with his back to the beams, playing a penny
whistle very softly to himself, or perhaps to the rats under the
straws.

"The craytures are that bold," said a boy from County Cork, "that when
we first came in they sat up smilin' and sang 'God Save Ireland.'
Bedad, and it's the truth I'm after tellin' ye."

The billets were wet and dirty. But it was good to be away from the
shells, even if the rain came through the beams of a broken roof and
soaked through the plaster of wattle walls. The Irish boys were good
at making wood fires in these old barns and pigsties, if there were a
few bricks about to make a hearth, and, sure, a baked potato was no
Protestant with a grudge against the Pope.

There were no such luxuries in the trenches when the Dublins and the
Munsters were up in the firing-line at the Hohenzollern. The shelling
was so violent that it was difficult to get up the supplies, and some
of the boys had to fall back on their iron rations. It was the only
complaint which one of them made when I asked him what he thought of
his first experience under fire.

"It was all right, sorr, and not so bad as I'd been after thinking, if
only my appetite had not been bigger than my belt, at all."

The spirit of these Irishmen was shown by some who had just come out
from the old country to join their comrades in the firing-line. When
the Germans put over a number of shells, smashing the trenches and
wounding men, the temper of the lads broke out, and they wanted to get
over the parapet and make a dash for the enemy. "'Twould taych him a
lesson," they told their officers, who had some trouble in restraining
them.

These newcomers had to take part in the digging which goes on behind
the lines at night--out in the open, without the shelter of a trench.
It was nervous work, especially when the German flares went up,
silhouetting their figures on the sky-line, and when one of the
enemy's machine-guns began to chatter. But the Irish boys found the
heart for a jest, and one of them, resting on his spade a moment,
stared over to the enemy's lines and said, "May the old devil take the
spalpeen who works that typewriter!"

It was a scaring, nerve-racking time for those who had come fresh to
the trenches, some of those boys who had not guessed the realities of
war until then. But they came out proudly--"with their tails up," said
one of their officers--after their baptism of fire.

The drum-and-fife band of the Munsters was practising in an old barn
on the wayside, and presently, in honor of visitors--who were myself
and another--the pipers were sent for. They were five tall lads, who
came striding down the street of Flemish cottages, with the windbags
under their arms, and then, with the fife men sitting on the straw
around them and the drummers standing with their sticks ready, they
took their breath for "the good old Irish tune" demanded by the
captain.

It was a tune which men could not sing very safely in Irish
yesterdays, and it held the passion of many rebellious hearts and the
yearning of them.

Oh, Paddy dear, and did you hear the news that's going round? The
shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground.

She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen; They're
hanging men and women there for wearing of the green.

Then the pipers played the "March of O'Neill," a wild old air as
shrill and fierce as the spirit of the men who came with their Irish
battle-cries against Elizabeth's pikemen and Cromwell's Ironsides.

I thought then that the lads who still stayed back in Ireland, and the
old people there, would have been glad to stand with me outside that
Flemish barn and to hear the old tunes of their race played by the
boys who were out there fighting.

I think they would have wept a little, as I saw tears in the eyes of
an Irish soldier by my side, for it was the spirit of Ireland herself,
with all her poetry, and her valor, and her faith in liberty, which
came crying from those pipes, and I wished that the sound of them
could carry across the sea.

That was a year before I saw the Irish battalions come out of Guichy,
a poor remnant of the strength that had gone in, all tattered and
torn, and caked with the filth of battle, and hardly able to stagger
along. But they pulled themselves up a little, and turned eyes left
when they passed their brigadier, who called out words of praise to
them.

It was more than a year later than that when I saw the last of them,
after a battle in Flanders, when they were massacred, and lay in heaps
round German redoubts, up there in the swamps.




X


Early in the morning of February 23d there was a clear sky with a
glint of sun in it, and airplanes were aloft as though it would be a
good flying-day. But before midday the sky darkened and snow began to
fall, and then it snowed steadily for hours, so that all the fields of
Flanders were white.

There was a strange, new beauty in the war zone which had changed all
the pictures of war by a white enchantment. The villages where our
soldiers were billeted looked as though they were expecting a visit
from Santa Claus. The snow lay thick on the thatch and in soft, downy
ridges on the red-tiled roofs. It covered, with its purity, the
rubbish heaps in Flemish farmyards and the old oak beams of barns and
sheds where British soldiers made their beds of straw. Away over the
lonely country which led to the trenches, every furrow in the fields
was a thin white ridge, and the trees, which were just showing a
shimmer of green, stood ink-black against the drifting snow-clouds,
with a long white streak down each tall trunk on the side nearest to
the wind. The old windmills of Flanders which looked down upon the
battlefields had been touched by the softly falling flakes, so that
each rib of their sails and each rung of their ladders and each plank
of their ancient timbers was outlined like a frosty cobweb.

Along the roads of war our soldiers tramped through the blizzard with
ermine mantles over their mackintosh capes, and mounted men with their
heads bent to the storm were like white knights riding through a white
wilderness. The long columns of motor-lorries, the gun--limbers drawn
up by their batteries, the field ambulances by the clearing hospitals,
were all cloaked in snow, and the tramp and traffic of an army were
hushed in the great quietude.

In the trenches the snow fell thickly and made white pillows of the
piled sand-bags and snow-men of sentries standing in the shelter of
the traverses. The tarpaulin roofs and timbered doorways of dugouts
were so changed by the snowflakes that they seemed the dwelling-places
of fairy folks or, at least, of Pierrot and Columbine in a Christmas
hiding-place, and not of soldiers stamping their feet and blowing on
their fingers and keeping their rifles dry.

In its first glamour of white the snow gave a beauty even to No Man's
Land, making a lace-work pattern of barbed wire, and lying very softly
over the tumbled ground of mine-fields, so that all the ugliness of
destruction and death was hidden under this canopy. The snowflakes
fluttered upon stark bodies there, and shrouded them tenderly. It was
as though all the doves of peace were flying down to fold their wings
above the obscene things of war.

For a little while the snow brought something like peace. The guns
were quieter, for artillery observation was impossible. There could be
no sniping, for the scurrying flakes put a veil between the trenches.
The airplanes which went up in the morning came down quickly to the
powdered fields and took shelter in their sheds. A great hush was over
the war zone, but there was something grim, suggestive of tragic
drama, in this silent countryside, so white even in the darkness,
where millions of men were waiting to kill one another.

Behind the lines the joke of the snow was seen by soldiers, who were
quick to see a chance of fun. Men who had been hurling bombs in the
Ypres salient bombarded one another with hand-grenades, which burst
noiselessly except for the shouts of laughter that signaled a good
hit.

French soldiers were at the same game in one village I passed, where
the snow-fight was fast and furious, and some of our officers led an
attack upon old comrades with the craft of trappers and an expert
knowledge of enfilade fire. The white peace did not last long. The
ermine mantle on the battlefield was stained by scarlet patches as
soon as men could see to fight again.




XI


For some days in that February of 1916 the war correspondents in the
Chateau of Tilques, from which they made their expeditions to the
line, were snowed up like the army round them. Not even the motor-cars
could move through that snow which drifted across the roads. We sat
indoors talking--high treason sometimes--pondering over the problem of
a war from which there seemed no way out, becoming irritable with one
another's company, becoming passionate in argument about the ethics of
war, the purpose of man, the gospel of Christ, the guilt of Germany,
and the dishonesty of British politicians. Futile, foolish arguments,
while men were being killed in great numbers, as daily routine,
without result!

Officers of a division billeted nearby came in to dine with us, some
of them generals with elaborate theories on war and a passionate
hatred of Germany, seeing no other evil in the world; some of them
brigadiers with tales of appalling brutality (which caused great
laughter), some of them battalion officers with the point of view of
those who said, "Morituri te saluant!"

There was one whose conversation I remember (having taken notes of it
before I turned in that night). It was a remarkable conversation,
summing up many things of the same kind which I had heard in stray
sentences by other officers, and month by month, years afterward,
heard again, spoken with passion. This officer who had come out to
France in 1914 and had been fighting ever since by a luck which had
spared his life when so many of his comrades had fallen round him, did
not speak with passion. He spoke with a bitter, mocking irony. He said
that G.H.Q. was a close corporation in the hands of the military
clique who had muddled through the South African War, and were now
going to muddle through a worse one. They were, he said, intrenched
behind impregnable barricades of old, moss-eaten traditions, red tape,
and caste privilege. They were, of course, patriots who believed that
the Empire depended upon their system. They had no doubt of their
inherent right to conduct the war, which was "their war," without
interference or criticism or publicity. They spent many hours of the
days and nights in writing letters to one another, and those who wrote
most letters received most decorations, and felt, with a patriotic
fire within their breasts, that they were getting on with the war.

Within their close corporation there were rivalries, intrigues,
perjuries, and treacheries like those of a medieval court. Each
general and staff-officer had his followers and his sycophants, who
jostled for one another's jobs, fawned on the great man, flattered his
vanity, and made him believe in his omniscience. Among the General
Staff there were various grades--G.S.O. I, G.S.O. II, G.S.O. III, and
those in the lower grades fought for a higher grade with every kind of
artfulness, and diplomacy and back-stair influence. They worked late
into the night. That is to say, they went back to their offices after
dining at mess--"so frightfully busy, you know, old man!"--and kept
their lights burning, and smoked more cigarettes, and rang one another
up on the telephone with futile questions, and invented new ways of
preventing something from being down somewhere. The war to them was a
far-off thing essential to their way of life, as miners in the coal-
fields are essential to statesmen in Downing Street, especially in
cold weather. But it did not touch their souls or their bodies. They
did not see its agony, or imagine it, or worry about it. They were
always cheerful, breezy, bright with optimism. They made a little work
go a long way. They were haughty and arrogant with subordinate
officers, or at the best affable and condescending, and to superior
officers they said, "Yes, sir," "No, sir," "Quite so, sir," to any
statement, however absurd in its ignorance and dogmatism. If a major-
general said, "Wagner was a mountebank in music," G.S.O. III, who had
once studied at Munich, said, "Yes, sir," or, "You think so, sir? Of
course you're right."

If a lieutenant-colonel said, "Browning was not a poet," a staff
captain, who had read Browning at Cambridge with passionate
admiration, said: "I quite agree with you, sir. And who do you think
was a poet, sir?"

It was the army system. The opinion of a superior officer was correct,
always. It did not admit of contradiction. It was not to be
criticized. Its ignorance was wisdom.

G. H. Q. lived, said our guest, in a world of its own, rose-colored,
remote from the ugly things of war. They had heard of the trenches,
yes, but as the West End hears of the East End--a nasty place where
common people lived. Occasionally they visited the trenches as society
folk go slumming, and came back proud of having seen a shell burst,
having braved the lice and the dirt.

"The trenches are the slums," said our guest. "We are the Great
Unwashed. We are the Mud-larks."

There was a trench in the salient called J. 3. It was away out in
advance of our lines. It was not connected with our own trench system.
It had been left derelict by both sides and was a ditch in No Man's
Land. But our men were ordered to hold it--"to save sniping." A
battalion commander protested to the Headquarters Staff. There was no
object in holding J. 3. It was a target for German guns and a
temptation to German miners.

"J. 3," came the staff command, "must be held until further orders."

We lost five hundred men in holding it. The trench and all in it were
thrown up by mines. Among those killed was the Hon. Lyndhurst Bruce,
the husband of Camille Clifford, with other husbands of women unknown.

Our guest told the story of the massacre in Neuve Chapelle. "This is a
death sentence," said the officers who were ordered to attack. But
they attacked, and died, with great gallantry, as usual.

"In the slums," said our guest, "we are expected to die if G. H. Q.
tells us so, or if the corps arranges our funeral. And generally we
do."

That night, when the snow lay on the ground, I listened to the
rumbling of the gunning away in the salient, and seemed to hear the
groans of men at Hooge, at St.-Eloi, in other awful places. The irony
of that guest of ours was frightful. It was bitter beyond justice,
though with truth in the mockery, the truth of a soul shocked by the
waste of life and heroism; . . . when I met him later in the war he
was on the staff.




XII


The world--our side of it--held its breath and felt its own heart-beat
when, in February of that year '15, the armies of the German Crown
Prince launched their offensive against the French at Verdun. It was
the biggest offensive since their first drive down to the Marne; and
as the days passed and they hurled fresh masses of men against the
French and brought up new guns to replace their losses, there was no
doubt that in this battle the Germans were trying by all their weight
to smash their way to victory through the walls which the French had
built against them by living flesh and spirit.

"Will they hold?" was the question which every man among us asked of
his neighbor and of his soul.

On our front there was nothing of war beyond the daily routine of the
trenches and the daily list of deaths and wounds. Winter had closed
down upon us in Flanders, and through its fogs and snows came the news
of that conflict round Verdun to the waiting army, which was ours. The
news was bad, yet not the worst. Poring over maps of the French front,
we in our winter quarters saw with secret terror, some of us with a
bluster of false optimism, some of us with unjustified despair, that
the French were giving ground, giving ground slowly, after heroic
resistance, after dreadful massacre, and steadily. They were falling
back to the inner line of forts, hard pressed. The Germans, in spite
of monstrous losses under the flail of the soixante-quinzes, were
forcing their way from slope to slope, capturing positions which all
but dominated the whole of the Verdun heights.

"If the French break we shall lose the war," said the pessimist.

"The French will never lose Verdun," said the optimist.

"Why not? What are your reasons beyond that cursed optimism which has
been our ruin? Why announce things like that as though divinely
inspired? For God's sake let us stare straight at the facts."

"The Germans are losing the war by this attack on Verdun. They are
just pouring their best soldiers into the furnace--burning the flower
of their army. It is our gain. It will lead in the end to our
victory."

"But, my dear good fool, what about the French losses? Don't they get
killed, too? The German artillery is flogging them with shell-fire
from seventeen-inch guns, twelve-inch, nine-inch, every bloody and
monstrous engine. The French are weak in heavy artillery. For that
error, which has haunted them from the beginning, they are now paying
with their life's blood--the life blood of France."

"You are arguing on emotion and fear. Haven't you learned yet that the
attacking side always loses more than the defense?"

"That is a sweeping statement. It depends on relative man-power and
gun-power. Given a superiority of guns and men, and attack is cheap.
Defense is blown off the earth. Otherwise how could we ever hope to
win?"

"I agree. But the forces at Verdun are about equal, and the French
have the advantage of position. The Germans are committing suicide."

"Humbug! They know what they are doing. They are the greatest soldiers
in Europe."

"Led by men with bone heads."

"By great scientists."

"By the traditional rules of medievalism. By bald--headed vultures in
spectacles with brains like penny-in--the-slot machines. Put in a
penny and out comes a rule of war. Mad egoists! Colossal blunderers!
Efficient in all things but knowledge of life."

"Then God help our British G.H.Q.!"

A long silence. The silence of men who see monstrous forces at work,
in which human lives are tossed like straws in flame. A silence
reaching back to old ghosts of history, reaching out to supernatural
aid. Then from one speaker or another a kind of curse and a kind of
prayer.

"Hell! . . . God help us all!"

So it was in our mess where war correspondents and censors sat down
together after futile journeys to dirty places to see a bit of shell-
fire, a few dead bodies, a line of German trenches through a
periscope, a queue of wounded men outside a dressing station, the
survivors of a trench raid, a bombardment before a "minor operation,"
a trench-mortar "stunt," a new part of the line. . . Verdun was the
only thing that mattered in March and April until France had saved
herself and all of us.




XIII


The British army took no part in that battle of Verdun, but rendered
great service to France at that time. By February of 1915 we had taken
over a new line of front, extending from our positions round Loos
southward to the country round Lens and Arras. It was to this movement
in February that Marshal Joffre made allusion when, in a message to
our Commander-in-Chief on March 2d, he said that "the French army
remembered that its recent call on the comradeship of the British army
met with an immediate and complete response."

By liberating an immense number of French troops of the Tenth Army and
a mass of artillery from this part of the front, we had the good
fortune to be of great service to France at a time when she needed
many men and guns to repel the assault upon Verdun.

Some of her finest troops--men who had fought in many battles and had
held the trenches with most dogged courage--were here in this sector
of the western front, and many batteries of heavy and light artillery
had been in these positions since the early months of the war. It was,
therefore, giving a new and formidable strength to the defense of
Verdun when British troops replaced them at the time the enemy made
his great attack.

The French went away from this part of their battlefront with regret
and emotion. To them it was sacred ground, this line from the long
ridge of Notre Dame de Lorette, past Arras, the old capital of Artois,
to Hebuterne, where it linked up with the British army already on the
Somme. Every field here was a graveyard of their heroic dead.

I went over all the ground which we now held, and saw the visible
reminders of all that fighting which lay strewn there, and told the
story of all the struggle there by the upheaval of earth, the wreckage
of old trenches, the mine--craters and shell-holes, and the litter of
battle in every part of that countryside.

I went there first--to the hill of Notre Dame de Lorette looking
northward to Lens, and facing the Vimy Ridge, which the enemy held as
a strong barrier against us above the village of Souchez and Ablain
St.-Nazaire and Neuville St.-Vaast, which the French had captured--
when they were still there; and I am glad of that, for I saw in their
places the men who had lived there and fought there as one may read in
the terrible and tragic narrative of war by Henri Barbusse in Le Feu.

I went on such a day as Barbusse describes. (Never once did he admit
any fine weather to alleviate the suffering of his comrades, thereby
exaggerating their misery somewhat.) It was raining, and there was a
white, dank mist through the trees of the Bois de Bouvigny on the way
to the spur of Notre Dame. It clung to the undergrowth, which was torn
by shell-fire, and to every blade of grass growing rankly round the
lips of shell-craters in which were bits of red rag or old bones, the
red pantaloons of the first French armies who had fought through those
woods in the beginning of the war.

I roamed about a graveyard there, where shells had smashed down some
of the crosses, but had not damaged the memorial to the men who had
stormed up the slope of Notre Dame de Lorette and had fallen when
their comrades chased the Germans to the village below.

A few shells came over the hill as I pushed through the undergrowth
with a French captain, and they burst among the trees with shattering
boughs. I remember that little officer in a steel helmet, and I could
see a Norman knight as his ancestor with a falcon as his crest. He
stood so often on the sky-line, in full view of the enemy (I was
thankful for the mist), that I admired but deplored his audacity.
Without any screen to hide us we walked down the hillside, gathering
clots of greasy mud in our boots, stumbling, and once sprawling.
Another French captain joined us and became the guide.

"This road is often 'Marmite,'" he said, "but I have escaped so often
I have a kind of fatalism."

I envied his faith, remembering two eight-inch shells which a few
minutes before had burst in our immediate neighborhood, cutting off
twigs of trees and one branch with a scatter of steel as sharp as
knives and as heavy as sledge-hammers.

Then for the first time I went into Ablain St.-Nazaire, which
afterward I passed through scores of times on the way to Vimy when
that ridge was ours. The ragged ruin of its church was white and
ghostly in the mist. On the right of the winding road which led
through it was Souchez Wood, all blasted and riven, and beyond a
huddle of bricks which once was Souchez village.

"Our men have fallen on every yard of this ground," said the French
officer. "Their bodies lie thick below the soil. Poor France! Poor
France!"

He spoke with tragedy in his eyes and voice, seeing the vision of all
that youth of France which even then, in March of '16, had been
offered up in vast sacrifice to the greedy devils of war. Rain was
slashing down now, beating a tattoo on the steel helmets of a body of
French soldiers who stood shivering by the ruined walls while trench-
mortars were making a tumult in the neighborhood. They were the men of
Henri Barbusse--his comrades. There were middle-aged men and boys
mixed together in a confraternity of misery. They were plastered with
wet clay, and their boots were enlarged grotesquely by the clots of
mud on them. Their blue coats were soddened, and the water dripped out
of them and made pools round their feet. They were unshaven, and their
wet faces were smeared with the soil of the trenches.

"How goes it?" said the French captain with me.

"It does not go," said the French sergeant. "'Cre nom de Dieu!--my men
are not gay to-day. They have been wet for three weeks and their bones
are aching. This place is not a Bal Tabourin. If we light even a
little fire we ask for trouble. At the sight of smoke the dirty Boche
starts shelling again. So we do not get dry, and we have no warmth,
and we cannot make even a cup of good hot coffee. That dirty Boche up
there on Vimy looks out of his deep tunnels and laughs up his sleeve
and says those poor devils of Frenchmen are not gay to-day! That is
true, mon Capitaine. Mais, que voulez-vous ? C'est pour la France."

"Oui. C'est pour la France."

The French captain turned away and I could see that he pitied those
comrades of his as we went over cratered earth to the village of
Neuville St.-Vaast.

"Poor fellows," he said, presently. "Not even a cup of hot coffee! . .
.  That is war! Blood and misery. Glory, yes--afterward! But at what a
price!"

So we came to Neuville St.-Vaast, a large village once with a fine
church, old in history, a schoolhouse, a town hall, many little
streets of comfortable houses under the shelter of the friendly old
hill of Vimy, and within easy walk of Arras; then a frightful rubbish
heap mingled with unexploded shells, the twisted iron of babies'
perambulators, bits of dead bodies, and shattered farm-carts.

Two French soldiers carried a stretcher on which a heavy burden lay
under a blood-soaked blanket.

"It is a bad wound?" asked the captain.

The men laid the stretcher down, breathing hard, and uncovered a face,
waxen, the color of death. It was the face of a handsome man with a
pointed beard, breathing snuffily through his nose.

"He may live as far as the dressing station," said one of the
Frenchmen. "It was a trench-mortar which blew a hole in his body just
now, over there."

The man jerked his head toward a barricade of sand--bags at the end of
a street of ruin.

Two other men walked slowly toward us with a queer, hobbling gait.
Both of them were wounded in the legs, and had tied rags round their
wounds tightly. They looked grave, almost sullen, staring at us as
they passed, with brooding eyes.

"The German trench-mortars are very evil," said the captain.

We poked about the ruins, raising our heads cautiously above sand-bags
to look at the German lines cut into the lower slopes of Vimy, and
thrust out by communication trenches to the edge of the village in
which we walked. A boy officer came up out of a hole and saluted the
captain, who stepped back and said, in an emotional way:

"Tiens! C'est toi, Edouard?"

"Oui, mon Capitaine."

The boy had a fine, delicate, Latin face, with dark eyes and long,
black eyelashes.

"You are a lieutenant, then? How does it go, Edouard?"

"It does not go," answered the boy like that French sergeant in Ablain
St.-Nazaire. "This is a bad place. I lose my men every day. There were
three killed yesterday, and six wounded. To-day already there are two
killed and ten wounded."

Something broke in his voice.

"Ce n'est pas bon du tout, du tout!" ("It is not good at all, at
all!")

The captain clapped him on the shoulders, tried to cheer him.

"Courage, mon vieux!"

The rain shot down on us. Our feet slithered in deep, greasy mud.
Sharp stabs of flame vomited out of the slopes of Vimy. There was the
high, long-drawn scream of shells in flight to Notre Dame de Lorette.
Batteries of soixante-quinzes were firing rapidly, and their shells
cut through the air above us like scythes. The caldron in this pit of
war was being stirred up. Another wounded poilu was carried past us,
covered by a bloody blanket like the other one. From slimy sand-bags
and wet ruins came the sickening stench of human corruption. A boot
with some pulp inside protruded from a mud--bank where I stood, and
there was a human head, without eyes or nose, black, and rotting in
the puddle of a shell--hole. Those were relics of a battle on May 9th,
a year before, when swarms of boys, of the '16 class, boys of
eighteen, the flower of French youth, rushed forward from the
crossroads at La Targette, a few hundred yards away, to capture these
ruins of Neuville St.-Vaast. They captured them, and it cost them
seven thousand in killed and wounded--at least three thousand dead.
They fought like young demons through the flaming streets. They fell
in heaps under the German barrage-fire. Machine--guns cut them down as
though they were ripe corn under the sickle. But these French boys
broke the Prussian Guard that day.

Round about, over all this ground below Notre Dame de Lorette and the
fields round Souchez, the French had fought ferociously, burrowing
below earth at the Labyrinth--sapping, mining, gaining a network of
trenches, an isolated house, a huddle of ruins, a German sap-head, by
frequent rushes and the frenzy of those who fight vith their teeth and
hands, flinging themselves on the bodies of their enemy, below ground
in the darkness, or above ground between ditches and sand-bags. So for
something like fifteen months they fought, by Souchez and the
Labyrinth, until in February of '16 they went away after greeting our
khaki men who came into their old places and found the bones and
bodies of Frenchmen there, as I found, white, rat-gnawed bones, in
disused trenches below Notre Dame when the rain washed the earth down
and uncovered them.




XIV


It was then, in that February of '15, that the city of Arras passed
for defense into British hands and became from that time on one of our
strongholds on the edge of the battlefields so that it will be haunted
forever by the ghosts of those men of ours whom I saw there on many
days of grim fighting, month after month, in snow and sun and rain, in
steel helmets and stink-coats, in muddy khaki and kilts, in queues of
wounded (three thousand at a time outside the citadel), in billets
where their laughter and music were scornful of high velocities, in
the surging tide of traffic that poured through to victory that cost
as much sometimes as defeat.

When I first went into Arras during its occupation by the French I
remembered a day, fifteen months before, near the town of St.-Pol in
Artois, where I was caught up in one of those tides of fugitives which
in those early days of war used to roll back in a state of terror
before the German invasion. "Where do they come from?" I asked,
watching this long procession of gigs and farmers' carts and tramping
women and children. The answer told me everything. "They are
bombarding Arras, m'sieur."

Since then "They" had never ceased to bombard Arras. From many points
of view, as I had come through the countryside at night, I had seen
the flashes of shells over that city and had thought of the agony
inside. Four days before I went in first it was bombarded with one
hundred and fifty seventeen-inch shells, each one of which would
destroy a cathedral. It was with a sense of being near to death--not a
pleasant feeling, you understand--that I went into Arras for the first
time and saw what had happened to it.

I was very near to the Germans. No more than ten yards away, when I
stood peering through a hole in the wall of the Maison Rouge in the
suburb of Blangy--it was a red-brick villa, torn by shells, with a
piano in the parlor which no man dared to play, behind a shelter of
sand-bags--and no more than two hundred yards away from the enemy's
lines when I paced up and down the great railway station of Arras,
where no trains ever traveled. For more than a year the enemy had been
encamped outside the city, and for all that time had tried to batter a
way into and through it. An endless battle had surged up against its
walls, but in spite of all their desperate attacks no German soldier
had set foot inside the city except as a prisoner of war. Many
thousands of young Frenchmen had given their blood to save it.

The enemy had not been able to prevail over flesh and blood and the
spirit of heroic men, but he had destroyed the city bit by bit. It was
pitiful beyond all expression. It was worse than looking upon a woman
whose beauty had been scarred by bloody usage.

For Arras was a city of beauty--a living expression in stone of all
the idealism in eight hundred years of history, a most sweet and
gracious place. Even then, after a year's bombardment, some spiritual
exhalation of human love and art came to one out of all this ruin.
When I entered the city and wandered a little in its public gardens
before going into its dead heart--the Grande Place--I felt the strange
survival. The trees here were slashed by shrapnel. Enormous shell-
craters had plowed up those pleasure-grounds. The shrubberies were
beaten down.

Almost every house had been hit, every building was scarred and
slashed, but for the most part the city still stood, so that I went
through many long streets and passed long lines of houses, all
deserted, all dreadful in their silence and desolation and ruin.

Then I came to the cathedral of St.-Vaast. It was an enormous building
of the Renaissance, not beautiful, but impressive in its spaciousness
and dignity. Next to it was the bishop's palace, with long corridors
and halls, and a private chapel. Upon these walls and domes the fury
of great shells had spent itself. Pillars as wide in girth as giant
trees had been snapped off to the base. The dome of the cathedral
opened with a yawning chasm. High explosives burst through the walls.
The keystones of arches were blown out, and masses of masonry were
piled into the nave and aisles.

As I stood there, rooks had perched in the broken vaulting and flew
with noisy wings above the ruined altars. Another sound came like a
great beating of wings, with a swifter rush. It was a shell, and the
vibration of it stirred the crumbling masonry, and bits of it fell
with a clatter to the littered floor. On the way to the ruin of the
bishop's chapel I passed a group of stone figures. They were the
famous "Angels of Arras" removed from some other part of the building
to what might have been a safer place.

Now they were fallen angels, mangled as they lay. But in the chapel
beyond, where the light streamed through the broken panes of stained-
glass windows, one figure stood untouched in all this ruin. It was a
tall statue of Christ standing in an attitude of meekness and sorrow,
as though in the presence of those who crucified Him.

Yet something more wonderful than this scene of tragedy lived in the
midst of it. Yet there were still people living in Arras.

They lived an underground life, for the most part, coming up from the
underworld to blink in the sunlight, to mutter a prayer or a curse or
two, to gaze for a moment at any change made by a new day's
bombardment, and then to burrow down again at the shock of a gun.

Through low archways just above the pavement, I looked down into some
of the deep-vaulted cellars where the merchants used to stock their
wine, and saw old women, and sometimes young women there, cooking over
little stoves, pottering about iron bedsteads, busy with domestic
work. Some of them looked up as I passed, and my eyes and theirs
stared into each other. The women's faces were lined and their eyes
sunken. They had the look of people who have lived through many
agonies and have more to suffer.

Not all these citizens of Arras were below ground. There was a
greengrocer's shop still carrying on a little trade. I went into
another shop and bought some picture post-cards of the ruins within a
few yards of it. The woman behind the counter was a comely soul, and
laughed because she had no change. Only two days before a seventeen-
inch shell had burst fifty yards or so away from her shop, which was
close enough for death. I marveled at the risk she took with cheerful
smiles. Was it courage or stupidity?

One of the old women in the street grasped my arm in a friendly way
and called me cher petit ami, and described how she had been nearly
killed a hundred times. When I asked her why she stayed she gave an
old woman's cackling laugh and said, "Que voulez-vous, jeune homme?"
which did not seem a satisfactory answer. As dusk crept into the
streets of Arras I saw small groups of boys and girls. They seemed to
come out of holes in the ground to stare at this Englishman in khaki.
"Are you afraid of the shells?" I asked. They grimaced up at the sky
and giggled. They had got used to the hell of it all, and dodged death
as they would a man with a whip, shouting with laughter beyond the
length of his lash. In one of the vaulted cellars underground, when
English soldiers first went in, there lived a group of girls who gave
them wine to drink, and kisses for a franc or two, and the Circe cup
of pleasure, if they had time to stay. Overhead shells were howling.
Their city was stricken with death. These women lived like witches in
a cave--a strange and dreadful life.

I walked to the suburb of Blangy by way of St.-Nicolas and came to a
sinister place. Along the highroad from Arras to Douai was a great
factory of some kind--probably for beet sugar--and then a street of
small houses with back yards and gardens much like those in our own
suburbs. Holes had been knocked through the walls of the factory and
houses, the gardens had been barricaded with barbed wire and sand-
bags, and the passage from house to house and between the overturned
boilers of the factory formed a communication trench to the advanced
outpost in the last house held by the French, on the other side of
which is the enemy. As we made our way through these ruined houses we
had to walk very quietly and to speak in whispers. In the last house
of all, which was a combination of fort and dugout, absolute silence
was necessary, for there were German soldiers only ten yards away,
with trench-mortars and bombs and rifles always ready to snipe across
the walls. Through a chink no wider than my finger I could see the
red-brick ruins of the houses inhabited by the enemy and the road to
Douai . . . The road to Douai as seen through this chink was a tangle
of broken bricks.

The enemy was so close to Arras when the French held it that there
were many places where one had to step quietly and duck one's head, or
get behind the shelter of a broken wall, to avoid a sniper's bullet or
the rattle of bullets from a machine-gun.

As I left Arras in that November evening, darkness closed in its
ruined streets and shells were crashing over the city from French
guns, answered now and then by enemy batteries. But in a moment of
rare silence I heard the chime of a church clock. It seemed like the
sweet voice of that old-time peace in Arras before the days of its
agony, and I thought of that solitary bell sounding above the ruins in
a ghostly way.




XV


While we hung on the news from Verdun--it seemed as though the fate of
the world were in Fort Douaumont--our own lists of death grew longer.

In the casualty clearing station by Poperinghe more mangled men lay on
their stretchers, hobbled to the ambulance-trains, groped blindly with
one hand clutching at a comrade's arm. More, and more, and more, with
head wounds, and body wounds, with trench-feet, and gas.

"O Christ!" said one of them whom I knew. He had been laid on a swing-
bed in the ambulance-train.

"Now you will be comfortable and happy," said the R.A.M.C. orderly.

The boy groaned again. He was suffering intolerable agony, and,
grasping a strap, hauled himself up a little with a wet sweat breaking
out on his forehead.

Another boy came along alone, with one hand in a big bandage. He told
me that it was smashed to bits, and began to cry. Then he smudged the
tears away and said:

"I'm lucky enough. I saw many fellows killed."

So it happened, day by day, but the courage of our men endured.

It seemed impossible to newcomers that life could exist at all under
the shell-fire which the Germans flung over our trenches and which we
flung over theirs. So it seemed to the Irish battalions when they held
the lines round Loos, by that Hohenzollern redoubt which was one of
our little hells.

"Things happened," said one of them, "which in other times would have
been called miracles. We all had hairbreadth escapes from death." For
days they were under heavy fire, with 9.2's flinging up volumes of
sand and earth and stones about them. Then waves of poison-gas. Then
trench-mortars and bombs.

"It seemed like years!" said one of the Irish crowd. "None of us
expected to come out alive."

Yet most of them had the luck to come out alive that time, and over a
midday mess in a Flemish farmhouse they had hearty appetites for bully
beef and fried potatoes, washed down by thin red wine and strong black
coffee.

Round Ypres, and up by Boesinghe and Hooge--you remember Hooge?--the
14th, 20th, and 6th Divisions took turns in wet ditches and in shell-
holes, with heavy crumps falling fast and roaring before they burst
like devils of hell. On one day there were three hundred casualties in
one battalion The German gun-fire lengthened, and men were killed on
their way out to "rest"--camps to the left of the road between
Poperinghe and Vlamertinghe.

*     *     *

On March 28th the Royal Fusiliers and the Northumberland Fusiliers--
the old Fighting Fifth--captured six hundred yards of German trenches
near St.-Eloi and asked for trouble, which, sure enough, came to them
who followed them. Their attack was against a German stronghold built
of earth and sand-bags nine feet high, above a nest of trenches in the
fork of two roads from St.-Eloi to Messines. They mined beneath this
place and it blew up with a roaring blast which flung up tons of soil
in a black mass. Then the Fusiliers dashed forward, flinging bombs
through barbed wire and over sand-bags which had escaped the radius of
the mine-burst--in one jumbled mass of human bodies in a hurry to get
on, to kill, and to come back. One German machine-gun got to work on
them. It was knocked out by a bomb flung by an officer who saved his
company. The machine--gunners were bayoneted. Elsewhere there was
chaos out of which living men came, shaking and moaning.

I saw the Royal Fusiliers and Northumberland Fusiliers come back from
this exploit, exhausted, caked from head to foot in wet clay. Their
steel helmets were covered with sand-bagging, their trench-waders,
their rifles, and smoke helmets were all plastered by wet, white
earth, and they looked a ragged regiment of scarecrows gathered from
the fields of France. Some of them had shawls tied about their
helmets, and some of them wore the shiny black helmets of the Jaeger
Regiment and the gray coats of German soldiers. They had had luck.
They had not left many comrades behind, and they had come out with
life to the good world. Tired as they were, they came along as though
to carnival. They had proved their courage through an ugly job. They
had done "damn well," as one of them remarked; and they were out of
the shell-fire which ravaged the ground they had taken, where other
men lay.




XVI


At the beginning of March there was a little affair--costing a lot of
lives--in the neighborhood of St.-Eloi, up in the Ypres salient. It
was a struggle for a dirty hillock called the Bluff, which had been
held for a long time by the 3d Division under General Haldane, whose
men were at last relieved, after weary months in the salient, by the
17th Division commanded by General Pilcher. The Germans took advantage
of the change in defense by a sudden attack after the explosion of a
mine, and the men of the 17th Division, new to this ground, abandoned
a position of some local importance.

General Haldane was annoyed. It was ground of which he knew every
inch. It was ground which men of his had died to hold. It was very
annoying--using a feeble word--to battalion officers and men of the 3d
Division--Suffolks and King's Own Liverpools, Gordons and Royal Scots-
-who had first come out of the salient, out of its mud and snow and
slush and shell-fire, to a pretty village far behind the lines, on the
road to Calais, where they were getting back to a sense of normal life
again. Sleeping in snug billets, warming their feet at wood fires,
listening with enchantment to the silence about them, free from the
noise of artillery. They were hugging themselves with the thought of a
month of this. . . Then because they had been in the salient so long
and had held this line so stubbornly, they were ordered back again to
recapture the position lost by new men.

After a day of field sports they were having a boxing--match in an old
barn, very merry and bright, before that news came to them. General
Haldane had given me a quiet word about it, and I watched the boxing,
and the faces of all those men, crowded round the ring, with pity for
the frightful disappointment that was about to fall on them, like a
sledge-hammer. I knew some of their officers--Colonel Dyson of the
Royal Scots, and Captain Heathcote, who hated the war and all its ways
with a deadly hatred, having seen much slaughter of men and of their
own officers. Colonel Dyson was the seventeenth commanding officer of
his battalion, which had been commanded by every officer down to
second lieutenant, and had only thirty men left of the original crowd.
They had been slain in large numbers in that "holding attack" by Hooge
on September 25th, during the battle of Loos, as I have told. Now they
were "going in" again, and were very sorry for themselves, but hid
their feelings from their men. The men were tough and stalwart lads,
tanned by the wind and rain of a foul winter, thinned down by the
ordeal of those months in the line under daily bouts of fire. In a
wooden gallery of the barn a mass of them lay in deep straw,
exchanging caps, whistling, shouting, in high spirits. Not yet did
they know the call-back to the salient. Then word was passed to them
after the boxing finals. That night they had to march seven miles to
entrain for the railroad nearest to Ypres. I saw them march away,
silently, grimly, bravely, without many curses.

They were to recapture the Bluff, and early on the morning of March
2d, before dawn had risen, I went out to the salient and watched the
bombardment which preceded the attack. There was an incessant tumult
of guns, and the noise rolled in waves across the flat country of the
salient and echoed back from Kemmel Hill and the Wytschaete Ridge.
There was a white frost over the fields, and all the battle-front was
veiled by a mist which clung round the villages and farmsteads behind
the lines and made a dense bank of gray fog below the rising ground.

This curtain was rent with flashes of light and little glinting stars
burst continually over one spot, where the Bluff was hidden beyond
Zillebeke Lake. When daybreak came, with the rim of a red sun over a
clump of trees in the east, the noise of guns increased in spasms of
intensity like a rising storm. Many batteries of heavy artillery were
firing salvos. Field-guns, widely scattered, concentrated their fire
upon one area, where their shells were bursting with a twinkle of
light. Somewhere a machine-gun was at work with sharp, staccato
strokes, like an urgent knocking at the door. High overhead was the
song of an airplane coming nearer, with a high, vibrant humming. It
was an enemy searching through the mist down below him for any
movement of troops or trains.

It was the 76th Brigade of the 3d Division which attacked at four
thirty-two that morning, and they were the Suffolks, Gordons, and
King's Own Liverpools who led the assault, commanded by General Pratt.
They flung themselves into the German lines in the wake of a heavy
barrage fire, smashing through broken belts of wire and stumbling in
and out of shell-craters. The Germans, in their front-lines, had gone
to cover in deep dugouts which they had built with feverish haste on
the Bluff and its neighborhood during the previous ten days and
nights. At first only a few men, not more than a hundred or so, could
be discovered alive. The dead were thick in the maze of trenches, and
our men stumbled across them.

The living were in a worse state than the dead, dazed by the shell-
fire, and cold with terror when our men sprang upon them in the
darkness before dawn. Small parties were collected and passed back as
prisoners--marvelously lucky men if they kept their sanity as well as
their lives after all that hell about them. Hours later, when our
battalions had stormed their way up other trenches into a salient
jutting out of the German line and beyond the boundary of the
objective that had been given to them, other living men were found to
be still hiding in the depths of other dugouts and could not be
induced to come out. Terror kept them in those holes, and they were
like wild beasts at bay, still dangerous because they had their bombs
and rifles. An ultimatum was shouted down to them by men too busy for
persuasive talk. "If you don't come out you'll be blown in." Some of
them came out and others were blown to bits. After that the usual
thing happened, the thing that inevitably happened in all these little
murderous attacks and counter-attacks. The enemy concentrated all its
power of artillery on that position captured by our men, and day after
day hurled over storms of shrapnel and high explosives, under which
our men cowered until many were killed and more wounded. The first
attack on the Bluff and its recapture cost us three thousand
casualties, and that was only the beginning of a daily toll of life
and limbs in that neighborhood of hell. Through driving snowstorms
shells went rushing across that battleground, ceaselessly in those
first weeks of March, but the 3d Division repulsed the enemy's
repeated attacks in bombing fights which were very fierce on both
sides.

I went to General Pilcher's headquarters at Reninghelst on March 4th,
and found the staff of the 17th Division frosty in their greeting,
while General Pratt, the brigadier of the 3d Division, was conducting
the attack in their new territory. General Pilcher himself was much
shaken. The old gentleman had been at St.-Eloi when the bombardment
had begun on his men. With Captain Rattnag his A. D. C. he lay for an
hour in a ditch with shells screaming overhead and bursting close.
More than once when I talked with him he raised his head and listened
nervously and said: "Do you hear the guns? . . . They are terrible."

I was sorry for him, this general who had many theories on war and
experimented in light-signals, as when one night I stood by his side
in a dark field, and had a courteous old-fashioned dignity and
gentleness of manner. He was a fine old English gentleman and a
gallant soldier, but modern warfare was too brutal for him. Too brutal
for all those who hated its slaughter.

Those men of the 3d Division--the "Iron Division," as it was called
later in the war--remained in a hideous turmoil of wet earth up by the
Bluff until other men came to relieve them and take over this corner
of hell.

What remained of the trenches was deep in water and filthy mud, where
the bodies of many dead Germans lay under a litter of broken sand-bags
and in the holes of half-destroyed dugouts. Nothing could be done to
make it less horrible. Then the weather changed and became icily cold,
with snow and rain.

One dugout which had been taken for battalion headquarters was six
feet long by four wide, and here in this waterlogged hole lived three
officers of the Royal Scots to whom a day or two before I had wished
"good luck."

The servants lived in the shaft alongside which was a place measuring
four feet by four feet. There were no other dugouts where men could
get any shelter from shells or storms, and the enemy's guns were never
silent.

But the men held on, as most of our men held on, with a resignation to
fate and a stoic endurance beyond that ordinary human courage which we
seemed to know before the war.

The chaplain of this battalion had spent all the long night behind the
lines, stoking fires and going round the cook-houses and looking at
his wrist-watch to see how the minutes were crawling past. He had tea,
rum, socks, oil, and food all ready for those who were coming back,
and the lighted braziers were glowing red.

At the appointed time the padre went out to meet his friends, pressing
forward through the snow and listening for any sound of footsteps
through the great hush.

But there was no sound except the soft flutter of snowflakes. He
strained his eyes for any moving shadows of men. But there was only
darkness and the falling snow.

Two hours passed, and they seemed endless to that young chaplain whose
brain was full of frightful apprehensions, so that they were hours of
anguish to him.

Then at last the first men appeared. "I've never seen anything so
splendid and so pitiful," said the man who had been waiting for them.

They came along at about a mile an hour, sometimes in groups,
sometimes by twos or threes, holding on to each other, often one by
one. In this order they crept through the ruined villages in the
falling snow, which lay thick upon the masses of fallen masonry. There
was a profound silence about them, and these snow-covered men were
like ghosts walking through cities of death.

No man spoke, for the sound of a human voice would have seemed a
danger in this great white quietude. They were walking like old men,
weak-kneed, and bent under the weight of their packs and rifles.

Yet when the young padre greeted them with a cheery voice that hid the
water in his heart every one had a word and a smile in reply, and made
little jests about their drunken footsteps, for they were like drunken
men with utter weariness.

"What price Charlie Chaplin now, sir?" was one man's joke.

The last of those who came back--and there were many who never came
back--were some hours later than the first company, having found it
hard to crawl along that Via Dolorosa which led to the good place
where the braziers were glowing.

It was a heroic episode, for each one of these men was a hero, though
his name will never be known in the history of that silent and hidden
war. And yet it was an ordinary episode, no degree worse in its
hardship than what happened all along the line when there was an
attack or counter-attack in foul weather.

The marvel of it was that our men, who were very simple men, should
have "stuck it out" with that grandeur of courage which endured all
things without self-interest and without emotion. They were
unconscious of the virtue that was in them.




XVII


Going up to the line by Ypres, or Armentieres, or Loos, I noticed in
those early months of 1916 an increasing power of artillery on our
side of the lines and a growing intensity of gun-fire on both sides.

Time was, a year before, when our batteries were scattered thinly
behind the lines and when our gunners had to be thrifty of shells,
saving them up anxiously for hours of great need, when the S O S
rocket shot up a green light from some battered trench upon which the
enemy was concentrating "hate."

Those were ghastly days for gunner officers, who had to answer
telephone messages calling for help from battalions whose billets were
being shelled to pieces by long--range howitzers, or from engineers
whose working-parties were being sniped to death by German field-guns,
or from a brigadier who wanted to know, plaintively, whether the
artillery could not deal with a certain gun which was enfilading a
certain trench and piling up the casualties. It was hard to say:
"Sorry! . . . We've got to go slow with ammunition."

That, now, was ancient history. For some time the fields had grown a
new crop of British batteries. Month after month our weight of metal
increased, and while the field-guns had been multiplying at a great
rate the "heavies" had been coming out, too, and giving a deeper and
more sonorous tone to that swelling chorus which rolled over the
battlefields by day and night.

There was a larger supply of shells for all those pieces, and no
longer the same need for thrift when there was urgent need for
artillery support. Retaliation was the order of the day, and if the
enemy asked for trouble by any special show of "hate" he got it
quickly and with a double dose.

Compared with the infantry, the gunners had a chance of life, except
in places where, as in the salient, the German observers stared down
at them from high ground and saw every gun flash and registered every
battery. Going round the salient one day with General Burstall--and a
very good name, too!--who was then the Canadian gunner-general, I was
horrified at the way in which the enemy had the accurate range of our
guns and gun-pits and knocked them out with deadly shooting.

Here and there our amateur gunners--quick to learn their job--found a
good place, and were able to camouflage their position for a time, and
give praise to the little god of Luck, until one day sooner or later
they were discovered and a quick move was necessary if they were not
caught too soon.

So it was with a battery in the open fields beyond Kemmel village,
where I went to see a boy who had once been a rising hope of Fleet
Street.

He was new to his work and liked the adventure of it--that was before
his men were blown to bits around him and he was sent down as a tragic
case of shell-shock--and as we walked through the village of Kemmel he
chatted cheerfully about his work and life and found it topping. His
bright, luminous eyes were undimmed by the scene around him. He walked
in a jaunty, boyish way through that ruined place. It was not a
pleasant place. Kemmel village, even in those days, had been blown to
bits, except where, on the outskirts, the chateau with its racing-
stables remained untouched--"German spies!" said the boy--and where a
little grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes was also unscathed. The church
was battered and broken, and there were enormous shell-pits in the
churchyard and open vaults where old dead had been tumbled out of
their tombs. We walked along a sunken road and then to a barn in open
fields. The roof was pierced by shrapnel bullets, which let in the
rain on wet days and nights, but it was cozy otherwise in the room
above the ladder where the officers had their mess. There were some
home-made chairs up there, and Kirchner prints of naked little ladies
were tacked up to the beams, among the trench maps, and round the
fireplace where logs were burning was a canvas screen to let down at
night. A gramophone played merry music and gave a homelike touch to
this parlor in war.

"A good spot!" I said. "Is it well hidden?"

"As safe as houses," said the captain of the battery. "Touching wood,
I mean."

There were six of us sitting at a wooden plank on trestles, and at
those words five young men rose with a look of fright on their faces
and embraced the beam supporting the roof of the barn.

"What's happened?" I asked, not having heard the howl of a shell.

"Nothing," said the boy, "except touching wood. The captain spoke too
loudly."

We went out to the guns which were to do a little shooting, and found
them camouflaged from aerial eyes in the grim desolation of the
battlefield, all white after a morning's snowstorm, except where the
broken walls of distant farmhouses and the windmills on Kemmel Hill
showed black as ink.

The gunners could not see their target, which had been given to them
through the telephone, but they knew it by the figures giving the
angle of fire.

"It's a pumping-party in a waterlogged trench," said a bright-eyed boy
by my side (he was one of the rising hopes of Fleet Street before he
became a gunner officer in Flanders). "With any luck we shall get 'em
in the neck, and I like to hear the Germans squeal. . . And my gun's
ready first, as usual."

The officer commanding shouted through a tin megaphone, and the
battery fired, each gun following its brother at a second interval,
with the staccato shock of a field-piece, which is more painful than
the dull roar of a "heavy."

A word came along the wire from the officer in the observation post a
mile away.

Another order was called through the tin mouthpiece.

"Repeat!"

"We've got'em," said the young gentleman by my side, in a cheerful
way.

The officer with the megaphone looked across and smiled.

"We may as well give them a salvo. They won't like it a bit."

A second or two later there was a tremendous crash as the four guns
fired together. "Repeat!" came the high voice through the megaphone.

The still air was rent again. . . In a waterlogged trench, which we
could not see, a German pumping-party had been blown to bits.

The artillery officers took turns in the observation posts, sleeping
for the night in one of the dugouts behind the front trench instead of
in the billet below.

The way to the observation post was sometimes a little vague,
especially in frost-and-thaw weather, when parts of the communication
trenches slithered down under the weight of sand-bags.

The young officer who walked with luminous eyes and eager step found
it necessary to crawl on his stomach before he reached his lookout
station from which he looked straight across the enemy's trenches.
But, once there, it was pretty comfortable and safe, barring a direct
hit from above or a little mining operation underneath.

He made a seat of a well-filled sand-bag (it was rather a shock when
he turned it over one day to get dry side up and found a dead
Frenchman there), and smoked Belgian cigars for the sake of their
aroma, and sat there very solitary and watchful.

The rats worried him a little--they were bold enough to bare their
teeth when they met him down a trench, and there was one big fellow
called Cuthbert, who romped round his dugout and actually bit his ear
one night. But these inconveniences did not seem to give any real
distress to the soul of youth, out there alone and searching for human
targets to kill . . . until one day, as I have said, everything
snapped in him and the boy was broken.

It was on the way back from Kemmel village one day that I met a queer
apparition through a heavy snowstorm. It was a French civilian in
evening dress--boiled shirt, white tie, and all--with a bowler hat
bent to the storm.

Tomlinson, the great Tomlinson, was with me, and shook his head.

"It isn't true," he said. "I don't believe it. . . We're mad, that's
all! . . . The whole world is mad, so why should we be sane?"

We stared after the man who went into the ruin of Kemmel, to the noise
of gun-fire, in evening dress, without an overcoat, through a blizzard
of snow.

A little farther down the road we passed a signboard on the edge of a
cratered field. New words had been painted on it in good Roman
letters.

Cimetiere reserve

Tomlinson, the only Tomlinson, regarded it gravely and turned to me
with a world of meaning in his eyes. Then he tapped his forehead and
laughed.

"Mad!" he said. "We're all mad!"




XVIII


In that winter of discontent there was one great body of splendid men
whose spirits had sunk to zero, seeing no hope ahead of them in that
warfare of trenches and barbed wire. The cavalry believed they were
"bunkered" forever, and that all their training and tradition were
made futile by the digging in of armies. Now and again, when the
infantry was hard pressed, as in the second battle of Ypres and the
battle of Loos, they were called on to leave their horses behind and
take a turn in the trenches, and then they came back again, less some
of their comrades, into dirty billets remote from the fighting-lines,
to exercise their horses and curse the war.

Before they went into the line in February of '16 I went to see some
of those cavalry officers to wish them good luck, and saw them in the
trenches and afterward when they came out. In the headquarters of a
squadron of "Royals"--the way in was by a ladder through the window--
billeted in a village, which on a day of frost looked as quaint and
pretty as a Christmas card, was a party of officers typical of the
British cavalry as a whole.

A few pictures cut out of La Vie Parisienne were tacked on to the
walls to remind them of the arts and graces of an older mode of life,
and to keep them human by the sight of a pretty face (oh, to see a
pretty girl again!).

Now they were going to change this cottage for the trenches, this
quiet village with a church-bell chiming every hour, for the tumult in
the battle-front--this absolute safety for the immediate menace of
death. They knew already the beastliness of life in trenches. They had
no illusions about "glory." But they were glad to go, because activity
was better than inactivity, and because the risk would give them back
their pride, and because the cavalry should fight anyhow and somehow,
even if a charge or a pursuit were denied them.

They had a hot time in the trenches. The enemy's artillery was active,
and the list of casualties began to tot up. A good officer and a fine
fellow was killed almost at the outset, and men were horribly wounded.
But all those troopers showed a cool courage.

Things looked bad for a few minutes when a section of trenches was
blown in, isolating one platoon from another. A sergeant-major made
his way back from the damaged section, and a young officer who was
going forward to find out the extent of damage met him on the way.

"Can I get through?" asked the officer.

"I've got through," was the answer, "but it's chancing one's luck."

The officer "chanced his luck," but did not expect to come back alive.
Afterward he tried to analyze his feelings for my benefit.

"I had no sense of fear," he said, "but a sort of subconscious
knowledge that the odds were against me if I went on, and yet a
conscious determination to go on at all costs and find out what had
happened."

He came back, covered with blood, but unwounded. In spite of all the
unpleasant sights in a crumpled trench, he had the heart to smile when
in the middle of the night one of the sergeants approached him with an
amiable suggestion.

"Don't you think it would be a good time, sir, to make a slight attack
upon the enemy?"

There was something in those words, "a slight attack," which is
irresistibly comic to any of us who know the conditions of modern
trench war. But they were not spoken in jest.

So the cavalry did its "bit" again, though not as cavalry, and I saw
some of them when they came back, and they were glad to have gone
through that bloody business so that no man might fling a scornful
word as they passed with their horses.

"It is queer," said my friend, "how we go from this place of peace to
the battlefield, and then come back for a spell before going up again.
It is like passing from one life to another."

In that cavalry mess I heard queer conversations. Those officers
belonged to the old families of England, the old caste of aristocracy,
but the foul outrage of the war--the outrage against all ideals of
civilization--had made them think, some of them for the first time,
about the structure of social life and of the human family.

They hated Germany as the direct cause of war, but they looked deeper
than that and saw how the leaders of all great nations in Europe had
maintained the philosophy of forms and had built up hatreds and fears
and alliances over the heads of the peoples whom they inflamed with
passion or duped with lies.

"The politicians are the guilty ones," said one cavalry officer. "I am
all for revolution after this bloody massacre. I would hang all
politicians, diplomats, and so-called statesmen with strict
impartiality."

"I'm for the people," said another. "The poor, bloody people, who are
kept in ignorance and then driven into the shambles when their rulers
desire to grab some new part of the earth's surface or to get their
armies going because they are bored with peace."

"What price Christianity?" asked another, inevitably. "What have the
churches done to stop war or preach the gospel of Christ? The Bishop
of London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, all those conventional,
patriotic, cannon--blessing, banner-baptizing humbugs. God! They make
me tired!"

Strange words to hear in a cavalry mess! Strange turmoil in the souls
of men! They were the same words I had heard from London boys in
Ypres, spoken just as crudely. But many young gentlemen who spoke
those words have already forgotten them or would deny them.




XIX


The winter of 1915-16 passed with its misery, and spring came again to
France and Flanders with its promise of life, fulfilled in the beauty
of wild flowers and the green of leaves where the earth was not made
barren by the fire of war and all trees killed.

For men there was no promise of life, but only new preparations for
death, and continued killing.

The battle of Verdun was still going on, and France had saved herself
from a mortal blow at the heart by a desperate, heroic resistance
which cost her five hundred and fifty thousand in dead and wounded. On
the British front there were still no great battles, but those trench
raids, artillery duels, mine fighting, and small massacres which
filled the casualty clearing stations with the average amount of human
wreckage. The British armies were

being held in leash for a great offensive in the summer. New divisions
were learning the lessons of the old divisions, and here and there
generals were doing a little fancy work to keep things merry and
bright.

So it was when some mines were exploded under the German earthworks on
the lower slopes of the Vimy Ridge, where the enemy had already blown
several mines and taken possession of their craters. It was to gain
those craters, and new ones to be made by our mine charges, that the
74th Brigade of the 25th Division, a body of Lancashire men, the 9th
Loyal North Lancashires and the 11th Royal Fusiliers, with a company
of Royal Engineers and some Welsh pioneers, were detailed for the
perilous adventure of driving in the mine shafts, putting tremendous
charges of high explosives in the sapheads, and rushing the German
positions.

It was on the evening of May 15th, after two days of wet and cloudy
weather preventing the enemy's observation, that our heavy artillery
fired a short number of rounds to send the Germans into their dugouts.
A few minutes later the right group of mines exploded with a terrific
roar and blew in two of the five old German craters. After the long
rumble of heaving earth had been stilled there was just time enough to
hear the staccato of a German machine-gun. Then there was a second
roar and a wild upheaval of soil when the left group of mines
destroyed two more of the German craters and knocked out the machine-
gun.

The moment for the infantry attack had come, and the men were ready.
The first to get away were two lieutenants of the 9th Loyal North
Lancashires, who rushed forward with their assaulting-parties to the
remaining crater on the extreme left, which had not been blown up.

With little opposition from dazed and terror-stricken Germans,
bayoneted as they scrambled out of the chaotic earth, our men flung
themselves into those smoking pits and were followed immediately by
working-parties, who built up bombing posts with earth and sand-bags
on the crater lip and began to dig out communication trenches leading
to them. The assaulting-parties of the Lancashire Fusiliers were away
at the first signal, and were attacking the other groups of craters
under heavy fire.

The Germans were shaken with terror because the explosion of the mines
had killed and wounded a large number of them, and through the
darkness there rang out the cheers of masses of men who were out for
blood. Through the darkness there now glowed a scarlet light, flooding
all that turmoil of earth and men with a vivid, red illumination, as
flare after flare rose high into the sky from several points of the
German line. Later the red lights died down, and then other rockets
were fired, giving a green light to this scene of war.

The German gunners were now at work in answer to those beacons of
distress, and with every caliber of gun from howitzers to minenwerfers
they sheiled our front-lines for two hours and killed for vengeance.
They were too late to stop the advance of the assaulting troops, who
were fighting in the craters against groups of German bombers who
tried to force their way up to the rescue of a position already lost.
One of our officers leading the assault on one of the craters on the
right was killed very quickly, but his men were not checked, and with
individual resolution and initiative, and the grit of the Lancashire
man in a tight place, fought on grimly, and won their purpose.

A young lieutenant fell dead from a bullet wound after he had directed
his men to their posts from the lip of a new mine-crater, as coolly as
though he were a master of ceremonies in a Lancashire ballroom.
Another, a champion bomb-thrower, with a range of forty yards, flung
his hand-grenades at the enemy with untiring skill and with a fierce
contempt of death, until he was killed by an answering shot. The
N.C.O.'s took up the command and the men "carried on" until they held
all the chain of craters, crouching and panting above mangled men.

They were hours of anguish for many Germans, who lay wounded and half
buried, or quite buried, in the chaos, of earth made by those mine-
craters now doubly upheaved. Their screams and moans sounding above
the guns, the frantic cries of men maddened under tons of earth, which
kept them prisoners in deep pits below the crater lips, and awful
inarticulate noises of human pain coming out of that lower darkness
beyond the light of the rockets, made up a chorus of agony more than
our men could endure, even in the heat of battle. They shouted across
to the German grenadiers:

"We will cease fire if you will, and let you get in your wounded. . .
Cease fire for the wounded!"

The shout was repeated, and our bombers held their hands, still
waiting for an answer. But the answer was a new storm of bombs, and
the fighting went on, and the moaning of the men who were helpless and
unhelped.

Working-parties followed up the assault to "consolidate" the position.
They did amazing things, toiling in the darkness under abominable
shell-fire, and by daylight had built communication trenches with
head-cover from the crater lips to our front-line trenches.

But now it was the enemy's turn--the turn of his guns, which poured
explosive fire into those pits, churning up the earth again, mixing it
with new flesh and blood, and carving up his own dead; and it was the
turn of his bombers, who followed this fire in strong assaults upon
the Lancashire lads, who, lying among their killed and wounded, had to
repel those fierce attacks.

On May 17th I went to see General Doran of the 25th Division, an
optimistic old gentleman who took a bright view of things, and Colonel
Crosby, who was acting--brigadier of the 74th Brigade, which had made
the attack. He, too, was enthusiastic about the situation, though his
brigade had suffered eight hundred casualties in a month of routine
warfare.

In my simple way I asked him a direct question:

"Do you think your men can hold on to the craters, sir?"

Colonel Crosby stared at me sternly.

"Certainly. The position cannot be retaken overground. We hold it
strongly."

As he spoke an orderly came into his billet (a small farmhouse),
saluted, and handed him a pink slip, which was a telephone message. I
watched him read it, and saw the sudden pallor of his face, and
noticed how the room shook with the constant reverberation of distant
gun-fire. A big bombardment was in progress over Vimy way.

"Excuse me," said the colonel; "things seem to be happening. I must go
at once."

He went through the window, leaping the sill, and a look of bad
tidings went with him.

His men had been blown out of the craters.

A staff officer sat in the brigade office, and when the acting-
brigadier had gone raised his head and looked across to me.

"I am a critic of these affairs," he said. "They seem to me too
expensive. But I'm here to do what I am told."

We did not regain the Vimy craters until a year afterward, when the
Canadians and Scottish captured all the Vimy Ridge in a great assault.




XX


The winter of discontent had passed. Summer had come with a wealth of
beauty in the fields of France this side the belt of blasted earth.
The grass was a tapestry of flowers, and tits and warblers and the
golden oriole were making music in the woods. At dusk the nightingale
sang as though no war were near its love, and at broad noonday a
million larks rose above the tall wheat with a great high chorus of
glad notes.

Among the British armies there was hope again, immense faith that
believed once more in an ending to the war. Verdun had been saved. The
enemy had been slaughtered. His reserves were thin and hard to get (so
said Intelligence) and the British, stronger than they had ever been,
in men, and guns, and shells, and aircraft, and all material of war,
were going to be launched in a great offensive. No more trench
warfare. No more dying in ditches. Out into the open, with an Army of
Pursuit (Rawlinson's) and a quick break-through. It was to be "The
Great Push." The last battles were to be fought before the year died
again, though many men would die before that time.



Up in the salient something happened to make men question the weakness
of the enemy, but the news did not spread very far and there was a lot
to do elsewhere, on the Somme, where the salient seemed a long way
off. It was the Canadians to whom it happened, and it was an ugly
thing.

On June 2d a flame of fire from many batteries opened upon their lines
in Sanctuary Wood and Maple Copse, beyond the lines of Ypres, and
tragedy befell them. I went to see those who lived through it and
stood in the presence of men who had escaped from the very pits of
that hell which had been invented by human beings out of the earth's
chemistry, and yet had kept their reason.

The enemy's bombardment began suddenly, with one great crash of guns,
at half past eight on Friday morning. Generals Mercer and Williams had
gone up to inspect the trenches at six o'clock in the morning.

It had been almost silent along the lines when the enemy's batteries
opened fire with one enormous thunderstroke, which was followed by
continuous salvos. The shells came from nearly every point of the
compass--north, east, and south. The evil spell of the salient was
over our men again.

In the trenches just south of Hooge were the Princess Patricia's Light
Infantry, with some battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment south of
them, and some of the Canadian Mounted Rifles (who had long been
dismounted), and units from another Canadian division at said
Intelligence) and the British, stronger than they had ever been, in
men, and guns, and shells, and aircraft, and all material of war, were
going to be launched in a great offensive. No more trench warfare. No
more dying in ditches. Out into the open, with an Army of Pursuit
(Rawlinson's) and a quick break-through. It was to be "The Great
Push." The last battles were to be fought before the year died again,
though many men would die before that time.

Up in the salient something happened to make men question the weakness
of the enemy, but the news did not spread very far and there was a lot
to do elsewhere, on the Somme, where the salient seemed a long way
off. It was the Canadians to whom it happened, and it was an ugly
thing.

On June 2nd a flame of fire from many batteries opened upon their
lines in Sanctuary Wood and Maple Copse, beyond the lines of Ypres,
and tragedy befell them. I went to see those who lived through it and
stood in the presence of men who had escaped from the very pits of
that hell which had been invented by human beings out of the earth's
chemistry, and yet had kept their reason.

The enemy's bombardment began suddenly, with one great crash of guns,
at half past eight on Friday morning. Generals Mercer and Williams had
gone up to inspect the trenches at six o'clock in the morning.

It had been almost silent along the lines when the enemy's batteries
opened fire with one enormous thunderstroke, which was followed by
continuous salvos. The shells came from nearly every point of the
compass--north, east, and south. The evil spell of the salient was
over our men again.

In the trenches just south of Hooge were the Princess Patricia's Light
Infantry, with some battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment south of
them, and some of the Canadian Mounted Rifles (who had long been
dismounted), and units from another Canadian division at says one of
his comrades--as he fired his revolver and then flung it into a
German's face.

Colonel Shaw of the 1st Battalion, C.M.R., rallied eighty men out of
the Cumberland dugouts, and died fighting. The Germans were kept at
bay for some time, but they flung their bombs into the square of men,
so that very few remained alive. When only eight were still fighting
among the bodies of their comrades these tattered and blood-splashed
men, standing there fiercely contemptuous of the enemy and death, were
ordered to retire by Major Palmer, the last officer among them.

Meanwhile the battalions in support were holding firm in spite of the
shell-fire, which raged above them also, and it was against this
second line of Canadians that the German infantry came up--and broke.

In the center the German thrust was hard toward Zillebeke Lake. Here
some of the Canadian Rifles were in support, and as soon as the
infantry attack began they were ordered forward to meet and check the
enemy. An officer in command of one of their battalions afterward told
me that he led his men across country to Maple Copse under such a fire
as he had never seen. Because of the comrades in front, in dire need
of help, no notice was taken as the wounded fell, but the others
pressed on as fast as they could go.

Maple Copse was reached, and here the men halted and awaited the enemy
with another battalion who were already holding this wood of six or
seven acres. When the German troops arrived they may have expected to
meet no great resistance. They met a withering fire, which caused them
bloody losses. The Canadians had assembled at various points, which
became strongholds of defense with machine-guns and bomb stores, and
the men held their fire until the enemy was within close range, so
that they worked havoc among them. But the German guns never ceased
and many Canadians fell. Col. E. H. Baker, a member of the Canadian
Parliament, fell with a piece of shell in his lung.

Hour after hour our gunners fed their breeches and poured out shells.
The edge of the salient was swept with fire, and, though the Canadian
losses were frightful, the Germans suffered also, so that the
battlefield was one great shambles. Our own wounded, who were brought
back, owe their lives to the stretcher-bearers, who were supreme in
devotion. They worked in and out across that shell-swept ground hour
after hour through the day and night, rescuing many stricken men at a
great cost in life to themselves. Out of one party of twenty only five
remained alive. "No one can say," said one of their officers, "that
the Canadians do not know how to die."

No one would deny that.

Out of three thousand men in the Canadian 8th Brigade their casualties
were twenty-two hundred.

There were 151 survivors from the 1st Battalion Canadian Mounted
Rifles, 130 from the 4th Battalion, 350 from the 5th, 520 from the
2nd. Those are the figures of massacre.

Eleven days later the Canadians took their revenge. Their own guns
were but a small part of the huge orchestra of "heavies" and field
batteries which played the devil's tattoo upon the German positions in
our old trenches. It was annihilating, and the German soldiers had to
endure the same experience as their guns had given to Canadian troops
on the same ground. Trenches already battered were smashed again. The
earth, which was plowed with shells in their own attack, was flung up
again by our shells. It was hell again for poor human wretches.

The Canadian troops charged at two o'clock in the morning. Their
attack was directed to the part of the line from the southern end of
Sanctuary Wood to Mount Gorst, about a mile, which included Armagh
Wood, Observatory Hill, and Mount Gorst itself.

The attack went quickly and the men expected greater trouble. The
enemy's shell-fire was heavy, but the Canadians got through under
cover of their own guns, which had lengthened their fuses a little and
continued an intense bombardment behind the enemy's first line. The
men advanced in open order and worked downward and southward into
their old positions.

In one place of attack about forty Germans, who fought desperately,
were killed almost to a man, just as Colonel Shaw had died on June 2d
with his party of eighty men who had rallied round him. It was one
shambles for another, and the Germans were not less brave, it seems.

One officer and one hundred and thirteen men surrendered. The officer
was glad to escape from the death to which he had resigned himself
when our bombardment began.

"I knew how it would be," he said. "We had orders to take this ground,
and took it; but we knew you would come back again. You had to do so.
So here I am."

Parts of the line were deserted, except by the dead. In one place the
stores which had been buried by the Canadians before they left were
still there, untouched by the enemy. Our bombardment had made it
impossible for his troops to consolidate their position and to hold
the line steady.

They had just taken cover in the old bits of trench, in shell-holes
and craters, and behind scattered sand-bags, and had been pounded
there. The Canadians were back again.




PART FIVE


The Heart of a City


AMIENS IN TIME OF WAR


I


During the battles of the Somme in 1916, and afterward in periods of
progress and retreat over the abominable fields, the city of Amiens
was the capital of the British army. When the battles began in July of
that year it was only a short distance away from the fighting-lines;
near enough to hear the incessant roar of gun-fire on the French front
and ours, and near enough to get, by motor-car or lorry, in less than
thirty minutes, to places where men were being killed or maimed or
blinded in the routine of the day's work. One went out past Amiens
station and across a little stone bridge which afterward, in the
enemy's advance of 1918, became the mark for German high velocities
along the road to Querrieux, where Rawlinson had his headquarters of
the Fourth Army in an old chateau with pleasant meadows round it and a
stream meandering through fields of buttercups in summer-time. Beyond
the dusty village of Querrieux with its white cottages, from which the
plaster fell off in blotches as the war went on, we went along the
straight highroad to Albert, through the long and straggling village
of Lahoussoye, where Scottish soldiers in reserve lounged about among
frowsy peasant women and played solemn games with "the bairns"; and
so, past camps and hutments on each side of the road, to the ugly red-
brick town where the Golden Virgin hung head downward from the broken
tower of the church with her Babe outstretched above the fields of
death as though as a peace-offering to this world at war.

One could be killed any day in Albert. I saw men blown to bits there
the clay after the battles of the Somme began. It was in the road that
turned to the right, past the square to go to Meaulte and on to
Fricourt. There was a tide of gun transport swirling down the road,
bringing up new ammunition for the guns that were firing without a
pause over Fricourt and Mametz. The high scream of a shell came
through a blue sky and ended on its downward note with a sharp crash.
For a few minutes the transport column was held up while a mass of raw
flesh which a second before had been two living men and their horses
was cleared out of the way. Then the gun wagons went at a harder pace
down the road, raising a cloud of white dust out of which I heard the
curses of the drivers, swearing in a foul way to disguise their fear.

I went through Albert many scores of times to the battlefields beyond,
and watched its process of disintegration through those years, until
it was nothing but a wild scrap heap of read brick and twisted iron,
and, in the last phase, even the Golden Virgin and her Babe, which had
seemed to escape all shell-fire by miraculous powers, lay buried
beneath a mass of masonry. Beyond were the battlefields of the Somme
where every yard of ground is part of the great graveyard of our
youth.

So Amiens, as I have said, was not far away from the red heart of war,
and was clear enough to the lines to be crowded always with officers
and men who came out between one battle and another, and by "lorry-
jumping" could reach this city for a few hours of civilized life,
according to their views of civilization. To these men--boys, mostly--
who had been living in lousy ditches under hell fire, Amiens was
Paradise, with little hells for those who liked them. There were
hotels in which they could go get a bath, if they waited long enough
or had the luck to be early on the list. There were streets of shops
with plate-glass windows unbroken, shining, beautiful. There were
well-dressed women walking about, with kind eyes, and children as
dainty, some of them, as in High Street, Kensington, or Prince's
Street, Edinburgh. Young officers, who had plenty of money to spend--
because there was no chance of spending money between a row of blasted
trees and a ditch in which bits of dead men were plastered into the
parapet--invaded the shops and bought fancy soaps, razors, hair-oil,
stationery, pocketbooks, knives, flash-lamps, top-boots (at a fabulous
price), khaki shirts and collars, gramophone records, and the latest
set of Kirchner prints. It was the delight of spending, rather than
the joy of possessing, which made them go from one shop to another in
search of things they could carry hack to the line--that and the lure
of girls behind the counters, laughing, bright-eyed girls who
understood their execrable French, even English spoken with a Glasgow
accent, and were pleased to flirt for five minutes with any group of
young fighting-men--who broke into roars of laughter at the gallantry
of some Don Juan among them with the gift of audacity, and paid
outrageous prices for the privilege of stammering out some foolish
sentiment in broken French, blushing to the roots of their hair
(though captains and heroes) at their own temerity with a girl who, in
another five minutes, would play the same part in the same scene with
a different group of boys.

I used to marvel at the patience of these girls. How bored they must
have been with all this flirtation, which led to nothing except,
perhaps, the purchase of a bit of soap at twice its proper price! They
knew that these boys would leave to go back to the trenches in a few
hours and that some of them would certainly be dead in a few days.
There could be no romantic episode, save of a transient kind, between
them and these good-looking lads in whose eyes there were desire and
hunger, because to them the plainest girl was Womanhood, the sweet,
gentle, and feminine side of life, as opposed to the cruelty,
brutality, and ugliness of war and death. The shopgirls of Amiens had
no illusions. They had lived too long in war not to know the
realities. They knew the risks of transient love and they were not
taking them--unless conditions were very favorable. They attended
strictly to business and hoped to make a lot of money in the shop, and
were, I think, mostly good girls--as virtuous as life in war-time may
let girls be--wise beyond their years, and with pity behind their
laughter for these soldiers who tried to touch their hands over the
counters, knowing that many of them were doomed to die for France and
England. They had their own lovers--boys in blue somewhere between
Vaux-sur-Somme and Hartmanns--weilerkopf--and apart from occasional
intimacies with English officers quartered in Amiens for long spells,
left the traffic of passion to other women who walked the streets.




II


The Street of the Three Pebbles--la rue des Trois Cailloux--which goes
up from the station through the heart of Amiens, was the crowded
highway. Here were the best shops--the hairdresser, at the left-hand
side, where all day long officers down from the line came in to have
elaborate luxury in the way of close crops with friction d'eau de
quinine, shampooing, singeing, oiling, not because of vanity, but
because of the joyous sense of cleanliness and perfume after the filth
and stench of life in the desolate fields; then the booksellers'
(Madame Carpentier et fille) on the right-hand side, which was not
only the rendezvous of the miscellaneous crowd buying stationery and
La Vie Parisienne, but of the intellectuals who spoke good French and
bought good books and liked ten minutes' chat with the mother and
daughter. (Madame was an Alsatian lady with vivid memories of I870,
when, as a child, she had first learned to hate Germans.) She hated
them now with a fresh, vital hatred, and would have seen her own son
dead a hundred times--he was a soldier in Saloniki--rather than that
France should make a compromise peace with the enemy. She had been in
Amiens, as I was, on a dreadful night of August of 1914, when the
French army passed through in retreat from Bapaume, and she and the
people of her city knew for the first time that the Germans were close
upon them. She stood in the crowd as I did--in the darkness, watching
that French column pass with their transport, and their wounded lying
on the baggage wagons, men of many regiments mixed up, the light of
the street lamps shining on the casques of cuirassiers with their long
horsehair tails, leading their stumbling horses, and foot soldiers,
hunched under their packs, marching silently with dragging steps. Once
in a while one of the soldiers left the ranks and came on to the
sidewalk, whispering to a group of dark shadows. The crowds watched
silently, in a curious, dreadful silence, as though stunned. A woman
near me spoke in a low voice, and said, "Nous sommes perdus!" Those
were the only words I heard or remembered.

That night in the station of Amiens the boys of a new class were being
hurried away in truck trains, and while their army was in retreat sang
"La Marseillaise," as though victory were in their hearts. Next day
the German army under von Kluck entered Amiens, and ten days afterward
passed through it on the way to Paris. Madame Carpentier told me of
the first terror of the people when the field-gray men came down the
Street of the Three Pebbles and entered their shops. A boy selling
oranges fainted when a German stretched out his hand to buy some.
Women hid behind their counters when German boots stamped into their
shops. But Madame Carpentier was not afraid. She knew the Germans and
their language. She spoke frank words to German officers, who saluted
her respectfully enough. "You will never get to Paris. . . France and
England will be too strong for you. . . Germany will be destroyed
before this war ends." They laughed at her and said: "We shall be in
Paris in a week from now. Have you a little diary, Madame?" Madame
Carpentier was haughty with them. Some women of Amiens--poor drabs--
did not show any haughtiness, nor any pride, with the enemy who
crowded into the city on their way toward Paris. A girl told me that
she was looking through the window of a house that faced the Place de
la Gare, and saw a number of German soldiers dancing round a piano-
organ which was playing to them. They were dancing with women of the
town, who were laughing and screeching in the embrace of big, blond
Germans. The girl who was watching was only a schoolgirl then. She
knew very little of the evil of life, but enough to know that there
was something in this scene degrading to womanhood and to France. She
turned from the window and flung herself on her bed and wept
bitterly. . .

I used to call in at the bookshop for a chat now and then with Madame
and Mademoiselle Carpentier, while a crowd of officers came in and
out. Madame was always merry and bright in spite of her denunciations
of the "Sale Boches--les brigands, les bandits!" and Mademoiselle put
my knowledge of French to a severe but pleasant test. She spoke with
alarming rapidity, her words tumbling over one another in a cascade of
volubility delightful to hear but difficult to follow. She had a
strong mind--masterly in her methods of business--so that she could
serve six customers at once and make each one think that her attention
was entirely devoted to his needs--and a very shrewd and critical idea
of military strategy and organization. She had but a poor opinion of
British generals and generalship, although a wholehearted admiration
for the gallantry of British officers and men; and she had an intimate
knowledge of our preparations, plans, failures, and losses. French
liaison-officers confided to her the secrets of the British army; and
English officers trusted her with many revelations of things "in the
wind." But Mademoiselle Carpentier had discretion and loyalty and did
not repeat these things to people who had no right to know. She would
have been far more efficient as a staff officer than many of the young
gentlemen with red tabs on their tunics who came into the shop,
flipping beautiful top-boots with riding-crops, sitting on the
counter, and turning over the pages of La Vie for the latest
convention in ladies' legs.

Mademoiselle was a serious musician, so her mother told me, but her
musical studies were seriously interrupted by business and air raids,
which one day ceased in Amiens altogether after a night of horror,
when hundreds of houses were smashed to dust and many people killed,
and the Germans brought their guns close to the city--close enough to
scatter high velocities about its streets--and the population came up
out of their cellars, shaken by the terror of the night, and fled. I
passed the bookshop where Mademoiselle was locking up the door of this
house which had escaped by greater luck than its neighbors. She turned
as I passed and raised her hand with a grave gesture of resignation
and courage. "Ils ne passeront pas!" she said. It was the spirit of
the courage of French womanhood which spoke in those words.




III


That was in the last phase of the war, but the Street of the Three
Pebbles had been tramped up and down for two years before then by the
British armies on the Somme, with the French on their right. I was
never tired of watching those crowds and getting into the midst of
them, and studying their types. All the types of young English manhood
came down this street, and some of their faces showed the strain and
agony of war, especially toward the end of the Somme battles, after
four months or more of slaughter. I saw boys with a kind of hunted
look in their eyes; and Death was the hunter. They stared into the
shop windows in a dazed way, or strode along with packs on their
backs, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and white,
haggard faces, as expressionless as masks. Tomorrow or the next day,
perhaps, the Hunter would track them down. Other English officers
showed no sign at all of apprehension or lack of nerve-control,
although the psychologist would have detected disorder of soul in the
rather deliberate note of hilarity with which they greeted their
friends, in gusts of laughter, for no apparent cause, at "Charlie's
bar," where they would drink three cocktails apiece on an empty
stomach, and in their tendency to tell tales of horror as things that
were very funny. They dined and wined in Amiens at the "Rhin," the
"Godebert," or the "Cathedrale," with a kind of spiritual exaltation
in good food and drink, as though subconsciously they believed that
this might be their last dinner in life, with good pals about them.
They wanted to make the best of it--and damn the price. In that spirit
many of them went after other pleasures--down the byways of the city,
and damned the price again, which was a hellish one. Who blames them?
It was war that was to blame, and those who made war possible.

Down the rue des Trois Cailloux, up and down, up and down, went
English, and Scottish, and Irish, and Welsh, and Canadian, and
Australian, and New Zealand fighting--men. In the winter they wore
their trench-coats all splashed and caked up to the shoulders with the
white, chalky mud of the Somme battlefields, and their top--boots and
puttees were plastered with this mud, and their faces were smeared
with it after a lorry drive or a tramp down from the line. The rain
beat with a metallic tattoo on their steel hats. Their packs were all
sodden.

French poilus, detrained at Amiens station for a night on their way to
some other part of the front, jostled among British soldiers, and
their packs were a wonder to see. They were like traveling tinkers,
with pots and pans and boots slung about their faded blue coats, and
packs bulging with all the primitive needs of life in the desert of
the battlefields beyond civilization. They were unshaven, and wore
their steel casques low over their foreheads, without gaiety, without
the means of buying a little false hilarity, but grim and sullen--
looking and resentful of English soldiers walking or talking with
French cocottes.




IV


I saw a scene with a French poilu one day in the Street of the Three
Pebbles, during those battles of the Somme, when the French troops
were fighting on our right from Maricourt southward toward Roye. It
was like a scene from "Gaspard." The poilu was a middle-aged man, and
very drunk on some foul spirit which he had bought in a low cafe down
by the river. In the High Street he was noisy, and cursed God for
having allowed the war to happen, and the French government for having
sentenced him and all poor sacre poilus to rot to death in the
trenches, away from their wives and children, without a thought for
them; and nothing but treachery in Paris:

"Nous sommes trahis!" said the man, raising his arms. "For the
hundredth time France is betrayed."

A crowd gathered round him, listening to his drunken denunciations. No
one laughed. They stared at him with a kind of pitying wonderment. An
agent de police pushed his way between the people and caught hold of
the soldier by the wrist and tried to drag him away. The crowd
murmured a protest, and then suddenly the poilu, finding himself in
the hands of the police, on this one day out of the trenches--after
five months--flung himself on the pavement in a passion of tears and
supplication.

"Je suis pere de famille! . . . Je suis un soldat de France! . . .
Dans les tranchees pour cinq mois! . . . Qu'est-ce que mes camarades
vont dire, 'cre nom de Dieu? et mon capitaine? C'est emmordant apres
toute ma service comme brave soldat. Mais, quoi donc, mon vieux!"

"Viens donc, saligaud," growled the agent de police.

The crowd was against the policeman. Their murmurs rose to violent
protest on behalf of the poilu.

"C'est un heros, tout de meme. Cinq mois dans les tranches! C'est
affreux! Mais oui, il est soul, mais pour--quoi pas! Apres cinq mois
sur le front qu'est-ce que cela signifie? Ca n'a aucune importance!"

A dandy French officer of Chasseurs Alpins stepped into the center of
the scene and tapped the policeman on the shoulder.

"Leave him alone. Don't you see he is a soldier? Sacred name of God,
don't you know that a man like this has helped to save France, while
you pigs stand at street corners watching petticoats?"

He stooped to the fallen man and helped him to stand straight.

"Be off with you, mon brave, or there will be trouble for you."

He beckoned to two of his own Chasseurs and said:

"Look after that poor comrade yonder. He is un peu etoile."

The crowd applauded. Their sympathy was all for the drunken soldier of
France.




V


Into a small estaminet at the end of the rue des Trois Cailloux,
beyond the Hotel de Ville, came one day during the battles of the
Somme two poilus, grizzled, heavy men, deeply bronzed, with white dust
in their wrinkles, and the earth of the battlefields ingrained in the
skin of their big, coarse hands. They ordered two "little glasses" and
drank them at one gulp. Then two more.

"See what I have got, my little cabbage," said one of them, stooping
to the heavy pack which he had shifted from his shoulders to the other
seat beside him. "It is something to make you laugh."

"And what is that, my old one?" said a woman sitting on the other side
of the marble-topped table, with another woman of her own class, from
the market nearby.

The man did not answer the question, but fumbled into his pack,
laughing a little in a self-satisfied way.

"I killed a German to get it," he said. "He was a pig of an officer, a
dirty Boche. Very chic, too, and young like a schoolboy."

One of the women patted him on the shoulder. Her eyes glistened.

"Did you slit his throat, the dirty dog? Eh, I'd like to get my
fingers round the neck of a dirty Boche!"

"I finished him with a grenade," said the poilu. "It was good enough.
It knocked a hole in him as large as a cemetery. See then, my cabbage.
It will make you smile. It is a funny kind of mascot, eh?"

He put on the table a small leather pouch stained with a blotch of
reddish brown. His big, clumsy fingers could hardly undo the little
clasp.

"He wore this next his heart," said the man. "Perhaps he thought it
would bring him luck. But I killed him all the same! 'Cre nom de
Dieu!"

He undid the clasp, and his big fingers poked inside the flap of the
pouch.

"It was from his woman, his German grue. Perhaps even now she doesn't
know he's dead. She thinks of him wearing this next to his heart. 'Cre
nom de Dieu! It was I that killed him a week ago!"

He held up something in his hand, and the light through the estaminet
window gleamed on it. It was a woman's lock of hair, like fine-spun
gold.

The two women gave a shrill cry of surprise, and then screamed with
laughter. One of them tried to grab the hair, but the poilu held it
high, beyond her reach, with a gruff command of, "Hands off!" Other
soldiers and women in the estaminet gathered round staring at the
yellow tress, laughing, making ribald conjectures as to the character
of the woman from whose head it had come. They agreed that she was fat
and ugly, like all German women, and a foul slut.

"She'll never kiss that fellow again," said one man. "Our old one has
cut the throat of that pig of a Boche!"

"I'd like to cut off all her hair and tear the clothes off her back,"
said one of the women. "The dirty drab with yellow hair! They ought to
be killed, every one of them, so that the human race should by rid of
them!"

"Her lover is a bit of clay, anyhow," said the other woman. "A bit of
dirt, as our poilus will do for all of them."

The soldier with the woman's hair in his hand stroked it across his
forefinger.

"All the same it is pretty. Like gold, eh? I think of the woman,
sometimes. With blue eyes, like a German girl I kissed in Paris-a
dancing-girl!"

There was a howl of laughter from the two women.

"The old one is drunk. He is amorous with the German cow!"

"I will keep it as a mascot," said the poilu, scrunching it up and
thrusting it into his pouch. "It'll keep me in mind of that saligaud
of a German officer I killed. He was a chic fellow, tout de meme. A
boy."




VI


Australians slouched up the Street of the Three Pebbles with a grim
look under their wide-brimmed hats, having come down from Pozieres,
where it was always hell in the days of the Somme fighting. I liked
the look of them, dusty up to the eyes in summer, muddy up to their
eyes in winter--these gipsy fellows, scornful of discipline for
discipline's sake, but desperate fighters, as simple as children in
their ways of thought and speech (except for frightful oaths), and
looking at life, this life of war and this life in Amiens, with frank,
curious eyes, and a kind of humorous contempt for death, and disease,
and English Tommies, and French girls, and "the whole damned show," as
they called it. They were lawless except for the laws to which their
souls gave allegiance. They behaved as the equals of all men, giving
no respect to generals or staff-officers or the devils of hell. There
was a primitive spirit of manhood in them, and they took what they
wanted, and were ready to pay for it in coin or in disease or in
wounds. They had no conceit of themselves in a little, vain way, but
they reckoned themselves the only fighting-men, simply, and without
boasting. They were hard as steel, and finely tempered. Some of them
were ruffians, but most of them were, I imagine, like those English
yeomen who came into France with the Black Prince, men who lived
"rough," close to nature, of sturdy independence, good-humored, though
fierce in a fight, and ruthless. That is how they seemed to me, in a
general way, though among them were boys of a more delicate fiber, and
sensitive, if one might judge by their clear-cut features and wistful
eyes. They had money to spend beyond the dreams of our poor Tommy. Six
shillings and sixpence a day and remittances from home. So they pushed
open the doors of any restaurant in Amiens and sat down to table next
to English officers, not abashed, and ordered anything that pleased
their taste, and wine in plenty.

In that High Street of Amiens one day I saw a crowd gathered round an
Australian, so tall that he towered over all other heads. It was at
the corner of the rue de Corps Nu sans Teste, the Street of the Naked
Body without a Head, and I suspected trouble. As I pressed on the edge
of the crowd I heard the Australian ask, in a loud, slow drawl,
whether there was any officer about who could speak French. He asked
the question gravely, but without anxiety. I pushed through the crowd
and said:

"I speak French. What's the trouble?"

I saw then that, like the French poilu I have described, this tall
Australian was in the grasp of a French agent de police, a small man
of whom he took no more notice than if a fly had settled on his wrist.
The Australian was not drunk. I could see that he had just drunk
enough to make his brain very clear and solemn. He explained the
matter deliberately, with a slow choice of words, as though giving
evidence of high matters before a court. It appeared that he had gone
into the estaminet opposite with four friends. They had ordered five
glasses of porto, for which they had paid twenty centimes each, and
drank them. They then ordered five more glasses of porto and paid the
same price, and drank them. After this they took a stroll up and down
the street, and were bored, and went into the estaminet again, and
ordered five more glasses of porto. It was then the trouble began. But
it was not the Australian who began it. It was the woman behind the
bar. She served five glasses more of porto and asked for thirty
centimes each.

"Twenty centimes," said the Australian. "Vingt, Madame."

"Mais non! Trente centimes, chaque verre! Thirty, my old one. Six
sous, comprenez?"

"No comprennye," said the Australian. "Vingt centimes, or go to hell."

The woman demanded the thirty centimes; kept on demanding with a voice
more shrill.

"It was her voice that vexed me," said the Australian. "That and the
bloody injustice."

The five Australians drank the five glasses of porto, and the tall
Australian paid the thirty centimes each without further argument.
Life is too short for argument. Then, without words, he took each of
the five glasses, broke it at the stem, and dropped it over the
counter.

"You will see, sir," he said, gravely, "the justice of the matter on
my side."

But when they left the estaminet the woman came shrieking into the
street after them. Hence the agent de police and the grasp on the
Australian's wrist.

"I should be glad if you would explain the case to this little
Frenchman," said the soldier. "If he does not take his hand off my
wrist I shall have to kill him."

"Perhaps a little explanation might serve," I said.

I spoke to the agent de police at some length, describing the incident
in the cafe. I took the view that the lady was wrong in increasing the
price so rapidly. The agent agreed gravely. I then pointed out that
the Australian was a very large-sized man, and that in spite of his
quietude he was a man in the habit of killing Germans. He also had a
curious dislike of policemen.

"It appears to me," I said, politely, "that for the sake of your
health the other end of the street is better than this."

The agent de police released his grip from the Australian's wrist and
saluted me.

"Vous avez raison, monsieur. Je vous remercie. Ces Australiens sont
vraiment formidables, n'est-ce pas?"

He disappeared through the crowd, who were smiling with a keen sense
of understanding. Only the lady of the estaminet was unappeased.

"They are bandits, these Australians!" she said to the world about
her.

The tall Australian shook hands with me in a comradely way.

"Thanks for your trouble," he said. "It was the injustice I couldn't
stick. I always pay the right price. I come from Australia."

I watched him go slouching down the rue des Trois Cailloux, head above
all the passers-by. He would be at Pozieres again next day.




VII


I was billeted for a time with other war correspondents in an old
house in the rue Amiral Courbet, on the way to the river Somme from
the Street of the Three Pebbles, and with a view of the spire of the
cathedral, a wonderful thing of delicate lines and tracery, graven
with love in every line, by Muirhead Bone, and from my dormer window.
It was the house of Mme. de la Rochefoucauld, who lived farther out of
the town, but drove in now and then to look at this little mansion of
hers at the end of a courtyard behind wrought-iron gates. It was built
in the days before the Revolution, when it was dangerous to be a fine
lady with the name of Rochefoucauld. The furniture was rather scanty,
and was of the Louis Quinze and Empire periods. Some portraits of old
gentlemen and ladies of France, with one young fellow in a scarlet
coat, who might have been in the King's Company of the Guard about the
time when Wolfe scaled the Heights of Abraham, summoned up the ghosts
of the house, and I liked to think of them in these rooms and going in
their sedan-chairs across the little courtyard to high mass at the
cathedral or to a game of bezique in some other mansion, still
standing in the quiet streets of Amiens, unless in a day in March of
1918 they were destroyed with many hundreds of houses by bombs and
gun-fire. My little room was on the floor below the garret, and here
at night, after a long day in the fields up by Pozieres or Martinpuich
or beyond, by Ligny-Tilloy, on the way to Bapaume, in the long
struggle and slaughter over every inch of ground, I used to write my
day's despatch, to be taken next day (it was before we were allowed to
use the military wires) by King's Messenger to England.

Those articles, written at high speed, with an impressionism born out
of many new memories of tragic and heroic scenes, were interrupted
sometimes by air-bombardments. Hostile airmen came often to Amiens
during the Somme fighting, to unload their bombs as near to the
station as they could guess, which was not often very near. Generally
they killed a few women and children and knocked a few poor houses and
a shop or two into a wild rubbish heap of bricks and timber. While I
wrote, listening to the crashing of glass and the anti-aircraft fire
of French guns from the citadel, I used to wonder subconsciously
whether I should suddenly be hurled into chaos at the end of an
unfinished sentence, and now and again in spite of my desperate
conflict with time to get my message done (the censors were waiting
for it downstairs) I had to get up and walk into the passage to listen
to the infernal noise in the dark city of Amiens. But I went back
again and bent over my paper, concentrating on the picture of war
which I was trying to set down so that the world might see and
understand, until once again, ten minutes later or so, my will-power
would weaken and the little devil of fear would creep up to my heart
and I would go uneasily to the door again to listen. Then once more to
my writing. . . Nothing touched the house in the rue Amiral Courbet
while we were there. But it was into my bedroom that a shell went
crashing after that night in March when Amiens was badly wrecked, and
we listened to the noise of destruction all around us from a room in
the Hotel du Rhin on the other side of the way. I should have been
sleeping still if I had slept that night in my little old bedroom when
the shell paid a visit.

There were no lights allowed at night in Amiens, and when I think of
darkness I think of that city in time of war, when all the streets
were black tunnels and one fumbled one's way timidly, if one had no
flash-lamp, between the old houses with their pointed gables, coming
into sharp collision sometimes with other wayfarers. But up to
midnight there were little lights flashing for a second and then going
out, along the Street of the Three Pebbles and in the dark corners of
side-streets. They were carried by girls seeking to entice English
officers on their way to their billets, and they clustered like
glowworms about the side door of the Hotel du Rhin after nine o'clock,
and outside the railings of the public gardens. As one passed, the
bright bull's-eye from a pocket torch flashed in one's eyes, and in
the radiance of it one saw a girl's face, laughing, coming very close,
while her fingers felt for one's badge.

"How dark it is to-night, little captain! Are you not afraid of
darkness? I am full of fear. It is so sad, this war, so dismal! It is
comradeship that helps one now! . . . A little love . . . a little
laughter, and then--who knows?"

A little love . . . a little laughter--alluring words to boys out of
one battle, expecting another, hating it all, lonely in their souls
because of the thought of death, in exile from their own folk, in
exile from all womanhood and tender, feminine things, up there in the
ditches and shellcraters of the desert fields, or in the huts of
headquarters staffs, or in reserve camps behind the fighting-line. A
little love, a little laughter, and then--who knows? The sirens had
whispered their own thoughts. They had translated into pretty French
the temptation of all the little devils in their souls.

"Un peu d'amour-"

One flash-lamp was enough for two down a narrow street toward the
riverside, and then up a little dark stairway to a lamp-lit room. . .
Presently this poor boy would be stricken with disease and wish
himself dead.




VIII


In the Street of the Three Pebbles there was a small estaminet into
which I went one morning for a cup of coffee, while I read an Amiens
news-sheet made up mostly of extracts translated from the leading
articles of English papers. (There was never any news of French
fighting beyond the official communique and imaginary articles of a
romantic kind written by French journalists in Paris about episodes of
war.) In one corner of the estaminet was a group of bourgeois
gentlemen talking business for a time, and then listening to a
monologue from the woman behind the counter. I could not catch many
words of the conversation, owing to the general chatter, but when the
man went out the woman and I were left alone together, and she came
over to me and put a photograph down on the table before me, and, as
though carrying on her previous train of thought, said, in French, of
course:

"Yes, that is what the war has done to me."

I could not guess her meaning. Looking at the photograph, I saw it was
of a young girl in evening dress with her hair coiled in an artistic
way and a little curl on each cheek. Madame's daughter, I thought,
looking up at the woman standing in front of me in a grubby bodice and
tousled hair. She looked a woman of about forty, with a wan face and
beaten eyes.

"A charming young lady," I said, glancing again at the portrait.

The woman repeated her last sentence, word for word.

"Yes . . . that is what the war has done to me."

I looked up at her again and saw that she had the face of the young
girl in the photograph, but coarsened, aged, raddled, by the passing
years and perhaps by tragedy.

"It is you?" I asked.

"Yes, in 1913, before the war. I have changed since then--n'est-ce
pas, Monsieur?"

"There is a change," I said. I tried not to express my thought of how
much change.

"You have suffered in the war--more than most people?"

"Ah, I have suffered!"

She told me her story, and word for word, if I could have written it
down then, it would have read like a little novel by Guy de
Maupassant. She was the daughter of people in Lille, well-to-do
merchants, and before the war married a young man of the same town,
the son of other manufacturers. They had two children and were very
happy. Then the war came. The enemy drove down through Belgium, and
one day drew near and threatened Lille. The parents of the young
couple said: "We will stay. We are too old to leave our home, and it
is better to keep watch over the factory. You must go, with the little
ones, and there is no time to lose."

There was no time to lose. The trains were crowded with fugitives and
soldiers--mostly soldiers. It was necessary to walk. Weeping, the
young husband and wife said farewell to their parents and set out on
the long trail, with the two babies in a perambulator, under a load of
bread and wine, and a little maid carrying some clothes in a bundle.
For days they tramped the roads until they were all dusty and
bedraggled and footsore, but glad to be getting farther away from that
tide of field-gray men which had now swamped over Lille. The young
husband comforted his wife. "Courage!" he said. "I have money enough
to carry us through the war. We will set up a little shop somewhere."
The maid wept bitterly now and then, but the young husband said: "We
will take care of you, Margot. There is nothing to fear. We are lucky
in our escape." He was a delicate fellow, rejected for military
service, but brave. They came to Amiens, and hired the estaminet and
set up business. There was a heavy debt to work off for capital and
expenses before they would make money, but they were doing well. The
mother was happy with her children, and the little maid had dried her
tears. Then one day the young husband went away with the little maid
and all the money, leaving his wife in the estaminet with a big debt
to pay and a broken heart.

"That is what the war has done to me," she said again, picking up the
photograph of the girl in the evening frock with a little curl on each
cheek.

"C'est triste, Madame!"

"Oui, c'est triste, Monsieur!"

But it was not war that had caused her tragedy, except that it had
unloosened the roots of her family life. Guy de Maupassant would have
given just such an ending to his story.




IX


Some of our officers stationed in Amiens, and billeted in private
houses, became very friendly with the families who received them.
Young girls of good middle class, the daughters of shopkeepers and
schoolmasters, and merchants in a good way of business, found it
delightful to wait on handsome young Englishmen, to teach them French,
to take walks with them, and to arrange musical evenings with other
girl friends who brought their young officers and sang little old
French songs with them or English songs in the prettiest French
accent. These young officers of ours found the home life very
charming. It broke the monotony of exile and made them forget the evil
side of war. They paid little gallantries to the girls, bought them
boxes of chocolate until fancy chocolate was forbidden in France, and
presented flowers to decorate the table, and wrote amusing verses in
their autograph albums or drew sketches for them. As this went on they
gained to the privilege of brotherhood, and there were kisses before
saying "good night" outside bedroom doors, while the parents
downstairs were not too watchful, knowing the ways of young people,
and lenient because of their happiness. Then a day came in each one of
these households when the officer billeted there was ordered away to
some other place. What tears! What lamentations! And what promises
never to forget little Jeanne with her dark tresses, or Suzanne with
the merry eyes! Were they not engaged? Not formally, perhaps, but in
honor and in love. For a time letters arrived, eagerly waited for by
girls with aching hearts. Then picture post-cards with a line or two
of affectionate greeting. Then nothing. Nothing at all, month after
month, in spite of all the letters addressed with all the queer
initials for military units. So it happened again and again, until
bitterness crept into girls' hearts, and hardness and contempt.

"In my own little circle of friends," said a lady of Amiens, "I know
eighteen girls who were engaged to English officers and have been
forsaken. It is not fair. It is not good. Your English young men seem
so serious, far more serious than our French boys. They have a look of
shyness which we find delightful. They are timid, at first, and blush
when one pays a pretty compliment. They are a long time before they
take liberties. So we trust them, and take them seriously, and allow
intimacies which we should refuse to French boys unless formally
engaged. But it is all camouflage. At heart your English young men are
just flirts. They play with us, make fools of us, steal our hearts,
and then go away, and often do not send so much as a post-card. Not
even one little post-card to the girls who weep their hearts out for
them! You English are all hypocrites. You boast that you 'play the
game.' I know your phrase. It is untrue.

You play with good girls as though they were grues, and that no
Frenchman would dare to do. He knows the difference between good girls
and bad girls, and behaves, with reverence to those who are good. When
the English army goes away from France it will leave many bitter
memories because of that."




X


It was my habit to go out at night for a walk through Amiens before
going to bed, and generally turned river-ward, for even on moonless
nights there was always a luminance over the water and one could see
to walk along the quayside. Northward and eastward the sky was
quivering with flashes of white light, like summer lightning, and now
and then there was a long, vivid glare of red touching the high clouds
with rosy feathers; one of our dumps, or one of the enemy's, had been
blown up by that gun-fire, sullen and menacing, which never ceased for
years. In that quiet half-hour, alone, or with some comrade, like
Frederic Palmer or Beach Thomas, as tired and as thoughtful as oneself
after a long day's journeying in the swirl of war, one's brain roved
over the scenes of battle, visualizing anew, and in imagination, the
agony up there, the death which was being done by those guns, and the
stupendous sum of all this conflict. We saw, after all, only one patch
of the battlefields of the world, and yet were staggered by the
immensity of its massacre, by the endless streams of wounded, and by
the growth of those little forests of white crosses behind the
fighting-lines. We knew, and could see at any moment in the mind's
eye--even in the darkness of an Amiens night--the vastness of the
human energy which was in motion along all the roads to Paris and from
Boulogne and Dieppe and Havre to the fighting-lines, and in every
village on the way the long columns of motor-lorries bringing up food
and ammunition, the trains on their way to the army rail-heads with
material of war and more food and more shells, the Red Cross trains
crowded with maimed and injured boys, the ambulances clearing the
casualty stations, the troops marching forward from back roads to the
front, from which many would never come marching back, the guns and
limbers and military transports and spare horses, along hundreds of
miles of roads--all the machinery of slaughter on the move. It was
staggering in its enormity, in its detail, and in its activity. Yet
beyond our sphere in the British section of the western front there
was the French front, larger than ours, stretching right through
France, and all their roads were crowded with the same traffic, and
all their towns and villages were stirred by the same activity and for
the same purpose of death, and all their hospitals were crammed with
the wreckage of youth. On the other side of the lines the Germans were
busy in the same way, as busy as soldier ants, and the roads behind
their front were cumbered by endless columns of transport and marching
men, and guns and ambulances laden with bashed, blinded, and bleeding
boys. So it was in Italy, in Austria, in Saloniki, and Bulgaria,
Serbia, Mesopotamia, Egypt. . . In the silence of Amiens by night,
under the stars, with a cool breath of the night air on our foreheads,
with a glamour of light over the waters of the Somme, our spirit was
stricken by the thought of this world-tragedy, and cried out in
anguish against this bloody crime in which all humanity was involved.
The senselessness of it! The futility! The waste! The mockery of men's
faith in God! . . .

Often Palmer and I--dear, grave old Palmer, with sphinx-like face and
honest soul--used to trudge along silently, with just a sigh now and
then, or a groan, or a sudden cry of "O God! . . . O Christ!" It was
I, generally, who spoke those words, and Palmer would say: "Yes . . .
and it's going to last a long time yet. A long time. . . It's a
question who will hold out twenty-four hours longer than the other
side. France is tired, more tired than any of us. Will she break
first? Somehow I think not. They are wonderful! Their women have a
gallant spirit. . . How good it is, the smell of the trees to-night!"

Sometimes we would cross the river and look back at the cathedral,
high and beautiful above the huddle of old, old houses on the
quayside, with a faint light on its pinnacle and buttresses and
immense blackness beyond them.

"Those builders of France loved their work," said Palmer. "There was
always war about the walls of this cathedral, but they went on with
it, stone by stone, without hurry."

We stood there in a long silence, not on one night only, but many
times, and out of those little dark streets below the cathedral of
Amiens came the spirit of history to teach our spirit with wonderment
at the nobility and the brutality of men, and their incurable folly,
and their patience with tyranny.

"When is it all going to end, Palmer, old man?"

"The war, or the folly of men?"

"The war. This cursed war. This bloody war."

"Something will break one day, on our side or the other. Those who
hold out longest and have the best reserves of man-power."

We were starting early next day--before dawn--to see the beginning of
another battle. We walked slowly over the little iron bridge again,
through the vegetable market, where old men and women were unloading
cabbages from a big wagon, then into the dark tunnel of the rue des
Augustins, and so to the little old mansion of Mme. de la
Rochefoucauld in the rue Amiral Courbet. There was a light burning in
the window of the censor's room. In there the colonel was reading The
Times in the Louis Quinze salon, with a grave pucker on his high, thin
forehead. He could not get any grasp of the world's events. There was
an attack on the censor by Northcliffe. Now what did he mean by that?
It was really very unkind of him, after so much civility to him.
Charteris would be furious. He would bang the telephone--but--dear,
dear, why should people be so violent? War correspondents were violent
on the slightest provocation. The world itself was very violent. And
it was all so dangerous. Don't you think so, Russell?

The cars were ordered for five o'clock. Time for bed.




XI


The night in Amiens was dark and sinister when rain fell heavily out
of a moonless sky. Hardly a torch-lamp flashed out except where a
solitary woman scurried down the wet streets to lonely rooms. There
were no British officers strolling about. They had turned in early, to
hot baths and unaccustomed beds, except for one or two, with their
burberries buttoned tight at the throat, and sopping field-caps pulled
down about the ears, and top--boots which went splash, splash through
deep puddles as they staggered a little uncertainly and peered up at
dark corners to find their whereabouts, by a dim sense of locality and
the shapes of the houses. The rain pattered sharply on the pavements
and beat a tattoo on leaden gutters and slate roofs. Every window was
shuttered and no light gleamed through.

On such a night I went out with Beach Thomas, as often before, wet or
fine, after hard writing.

"A foul night," said Thomas, setting off in his quick, jerky step. "I
like to feel the rain on my face."

We turned down as usual to the river. It was very dark--the rain was
heavy on the quayside, where there was a group of people bareheaded in
the rain and chattering in French, with gusts of laughter.

"Une bouteille de champagne!" The words were spoken in a clear boy's
voice, with an elaborate caricature of French accent, in musical
cadence, but unmistakably English.

"A drunken officer," said Thomas.

"Poor devil!"

We drew near among the people and saw a young officer arm in arm with
a French peasant--one of the market porters--telling a tale in broken
French to the audience about him, with comic gesticulations and
extraordinary volubility.

A woman put her hand on my shoulder and spoke in French.

"He has drunk too much bad wine. His legs walk away from him. He will
be in trouble, Monsieur. And a child--no older than my own boy who is
fighting in the Argonne."

"Apportez-moi une bouteille de champagne, vite! . . ." said the young
officer. Then he waved his arm and said: "J'ai perdu mon cheval" ("A
kingdom for a bloody horse!"), "as Shakespeare said. Y a-t'il
quelqu'un qui a vu mon sacre cheval? In other words, if I don't find
that four-legged beast which led to my damnation I shall be shot at
dawn. Fusille, comprenez? On va me fusiller par un mur blanc--or is it
une mure blanche? quand l'aurore se leve avec les couleurs d'une rose
et l'odeur d'une jeune fille lavee et parfumee. Pretty good that, eh,
what? But the fact remains that unless I find my steed, my charger, my
war-horse, which in reality does not belong to me at all, because I
pinched it from the colonel, I shall be shot as sure as fate, and,
alas! I do not want to die. I am too young to die, and meanwhile I
desire encore une bouteille de champagne!"

The little crowd of citizens found a grim humor in this speech, one-
third of which they understood. They laughed coarsely, and a man said:

"Quel drole de type! Quel numero!"

But the woman who had touched me on the sleeve spoke to me again.

"He says he has lost his horse and will be shot as a deserter. Those
things happen. My boy in the Argonne tells me that a comrade of his
was shot for hiding five days with his young woman. It would be sad if
this poor child should be condemned to death."

I pushed my way through the crowd and went up to the officer.

"Can I help at all?"

He greeted me warmly, as though he had known me for years.

"My dear old pal, you can indeed! First of all I want a bottle of
champagne-une bouteille de champagne-" it was wonderful how much music
he put into those words--"and after that I want my runaway horse, as I
have explained to these good people who do not understand a bloody
word, in spite of my excellent French accent. I stole the colonel's
horse to come for a joy-ride to Amiens. the colonel is one of the best
of men, but very touchy, very touchy indeed. You would be surprised.
He also has the worst horse in the world, or did, until it ran away
half an hour ago into the blackness of this hell which men call
Amiens. It is quite certain that if I go back without that horse most
unpleasant things will happen to a gallant young British officer,
meaning myself, who with most innocent intentions of cleansing his
soul from the filth of battle, from the horror of battle, from the
disgusting fear of battle--oh yes, I've been afraid all right, and so
have you unless you're a damned hero or a damned liar--desired to get
as far as this beautiful city (so fair without, so foul within!) in
order to drink a bottle, or even two or three, of rich, sparkling
wine, to see the loveliness of women as they trip about these
pestilential streets, to say a little prayer in la cathedrale, and
then to ride back, refreshed, virtuous, knightly, all through the
quiet night, to deliver up the horse whence I had pinched it, and
nobody any the wiser in the dewy morn. You see, it was a good scheme."

"What happened?" I asked.

"It happened thuswise," he answered, breaking out into fresh
eloquence, with fantastic similes and expressions of which I can give
only the spirit. "Leaving a Pozieres, which, as you doubtless know,
unless you are a bloody staff-officer, is a place where the devil goes
about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, where he leaves
his victims' entrails hanging on to barbed wire, and where the bodies
of your friends and mine lie decomposing in muddy holes--you know the
place?--I put my legs across the colonel's horse, which was in the
wagonlines, and set forth for Amiens. That horse knew that I had
pinched him--forgive my slang. I should have said it in the French
language, vole--and resented me. Thrice was I nearly thrown from his
back. Twice did he entangle himself in barbed wire deliberately. Once
did I have to coerce him with many stripes to pass a tank. Then the
heavens opened upon us and it rained. It rained until I was wet to the
skin, in spite of sheltering beneath a tree, one branch of which,
owing to the stubborn temper of my steed, struck me a stinging blow
across the face. So in no joyful spirit I came at last to Amiens, this
whited sepulcher, this Circe's capital, this den of thieves, this home
of vampires. There I dined, not wisely, but too well. I drank of the
flowing cup--une bouteille de champagne--and I met a maiden as ugly as
sin, but beautiful in my eyes after Pozieres--you understand--and
accompanied her to her poor lodging--in a most verminous place, sir--
where we discoursed upon the problems of life and love. O youth! O
war! O hell! . . . My horse, that brute who resented me, was in charge
of an 'ostler, whom I believe verily is a limb of Satan, in the yard
without. It was late when I left that lair of Circe, where young
British officers, even as myself, are turned into swine. It was late
and dark, and I was drunk. Even now I am very drunk. I may say that I
am becoming drunker and drunker."

It was true. The fumes of bad champagne were working in the boy's
brain, and he leaned heavily against me.

"It was then that that happened which will undoubtedly lead to my
undoing, and blast my career as I have blasted my soul. The horse was
there in the yard, but without saddle or bridle.

"'Where is my saddle and where is my bridle, oh, naughty 'ostler?' I
shouted, in dismay.

"The 'ostler, who, as I informed you, is one of Satan's imps, answered
in incomprehensible French, led the horse forth from the yard, and,
giving it a mighty blow on the rump, sent it clattering forth into the
outer darkness. In my fear of losing it--for I must be at Pozieres at
dawn--I ran after it, but it ran too fast in the darkness, and I
stopped and tried to grope my way back to the stableyard to kill that
'ostler, thereby serving God, and other British officers, for he was
the devil's agent. But I could not find the yard again. It had
disappeared! It was swallowed up in Cimmerian gloom. So I was without
revenge and without horse, and, as you will perceive, sir--unless you
are a bloody staff-officer who doesn't perceive anything--I am utterly
undone. I am also horribly drunk, and I must apologize for leaning so
heavily on your arm. It's awfully good of you, anyway, old man."

The crowd was mostly moving, driven indoors by the rain. The woman who
had spoken to me said, "I heard a horse's hoofs upon the bridge, la-
bas."

Then she went away with her apron over her head.

Thomas and I walked each side of the officer, giving him an arm. He
could not walk straight, and his legs played freakish tricks with him.
All the while he talked in a strain of high comedy interlarded with
grim little phrases, revealing an underlying sense of tragedy and
despair, until his speech thickened and he became less fluent. We
spent a fantastic hour searching for his horse. It was like a
nightmare in the darkness and rain. Every now and then we heard,
distinctly, the klip-klop of a horse's hoofs, and went off in that
direction, only to be baffled by dead silence, with no sign of the
animal. Then again, as we stood listening, we heard the beat of hoofs
on hard pavements, in the opposite direction, and walked that way,
dragging the boy, who was getting more and more incapable of walking
upright. At last we gave up hope of finding the horse, though the
young officer kept assuring us that he must find it at all costs.
"It's a point of honor," he said, thickly. "Not my horse, you know
Doctor's horse. Devil to pay to-morrow."

He laughed foolishly and said:

"Always devil to pay in morning."

We were soaked to the skin.

"Come home with me," I said. "We can give you a shake-down."

"Frightfully good, old man. Awfully sorry, you know, and all that. Are
you a blooming general, or something? But I must find horse."

By some means we succeeded in persuading him that the chase was
useless and that it would be better for him to get into our billet and
start out next morning, early. We dragged him up the rue des
Augustins, to the rue Amiral Courbet. Outside the iron gates I spoke
to him warningly:

"You've got to be quiet. There are staff-officers inside . . ."

"What? . . . Staff officers? . . . Oh, my God!"

The boy was dismayed. The thought of facing staff-officers almost
sobered him; did, indeed, sober his brain for a moment, though not his
legs.

"It's all right," I said. "Go quietly, and I will get you upstairs
safely."

It was astonishing how quietly he went, hanging on to me. The little
colonel was reading The Times in the salon. We passed the open door,
and saw over the paper his high forehead puckered with perplexity as
to the ways of the world. But he did not raise his head or drop The
Times at the sound of our entry. I took the boy upstairs to my room
and guided him inside. He said, "Thanks awfully," and then lay down on
the floor and fell into so deep a sleep that I was scared and thought
for a moment he might be dead. I went downstairs to chat with the
little colonel and form an alibi in case of trouble. An hour later,
when I went into my room, I found the boy still lying as I had left
him, without having stirred a limb. He was a handsome fellow, with his
head hanging limply across his right arm and a lock of damp hair
falling across his forehead. I thought of a son of mine, who in a few
years would be as old as he, and I prayed God mine might be spared
this boy's tragedy. . . Through the night he slept in a drugged way,
but just at dawn he woke up and stretched himself, with a queer little
moan. Then he sat up and said:

"Where am I?"

"In a billet at Amiens. You lost your horse last night and I brought
you here."

Remembrance came into his eyes and his face was swept with a sudden
flush of shame and agony.

"Yes . . . I made a fool of myself. The worst possible. How can I get
back to Pozieres?"

"You could jump a lorry with luck."

"I must. It's serious if I don't get back in time. In any case, the
loss of that horse--"

He thought deeply for a moment, and I could see that his head was
aching to the beat of sledge-hammers.

"Can I wash anywhere?"

I pointed to a jug and basin, and he said, "Thanks, enormously."

He washed hurriedly, and then stared down with a shamed look at his
muddy uniform, all creased and bedraggled. After that he asked if he
could get out downstairs, and I told him the door was unlocked.

He hesitated for a moment before leaving my room.

"I am sorry to have given you all this trouble. It was very decent of
you. Many thanks."

The boy was a gentleman when sober. I wonder if he died at Pozieres,
or farther on by the Butte de Warlencourt. . . A week later I saw an
advertisement in an Amiens paper: "Horse found. Brown, with white sock
on right foreleg. Apply--"

I have a fancy it was the horse for which we had searched in the rain.




XII


The quickest way to the cathedral is down a turning on the right-hand
side of the Street of the Three Pebbles. Charlie's bar was on the
left-hand side of the street, always crowded after six o'clock by
officers of every regiment, drinking egg-nogs, Martinis, Bronxes,
sherry cobblers, and other liquids, which helped men marvelously to
forget the beastliness of war, and gave them the gift of laughter, and
made them careless of the battles which would have to be fought. Young
staff-officers were there, explaining carefully how hard worked they
were and how often they went under shell-fire. The fighting officers,
English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, jeered at them, laughed hugely at the
latest story of mirthful horror, arranged rendezvous at the Godebert
restaurant, where they would see the beautiful Marguerite (until she
transferred to la cathedrale in the same street) and our checks which
Charlie cashed at a discount, with a noble faith in British honesty,
not often, as he told me, being hurt by a "stumor." Charlie's bar was
wrecked by shell-fire afterward, and he went to Abbeville and set up a
more important establishment, which was wrecked, too, in a fierce air
raid, before the paint was dry on the walls.

The cathedral was a shrine to which many men and women went all
through the war, called into its white halls by the spirit of beauty
which dwelt there, and by its silence and peace. The great west door
was screened from bomb-splinters by sand-bags piled high, and inside
there were other walls of sand-bags closing in the sanctuary and some
of the windows. But these signs of war did not spoil the majesty of
the tall columns and high roof, nor the loveliness of the sculptured
flowers below the clerestory arches, nor the spiritual mystery of
those great, dim aisles, where light flickered and shadows lurked, and
the ghosts of history came out of their tombs to pace these stones
again where five, six, seven centuries before they had walked to
worship God, in joy or in despair, or to show their beauty of young
womanhood--peasant girl or princess--to lovers gazing by the pillars,
or to plight their troth as royal brides, or get a crown for their
heads, or mercy for their dead bodies in velvet-draped coffins.

Our soldiers went in there, as many centuries before other English
soldiers, who came out with Edward the Black Prince, by way of Crecy,
or with Harry the King, through Agincourt. Five hundred years hence,
if Amiens cathedral still stands, undamaged by some new and monstrous
conflict in a world of incurable folly, the generation of that time
will think now and then, perhaps, of the English lads in khaki who
tramped up the highway of this nave with their field-caps under their
arms, each footstep leaving the imprint of a wet boot on the old
flagstones, awed by the silence and the spaciousness, with a sudden
heartache for a closer knowledge, or some knowledge, of the God
worshiped there--the God of Love--while, not far away, men were
killing one another by high explosives, shells, hand-grenades, mines,
machine-guns, bayonets, poison-gas, trench-mortars, tanks, and, in
close fighting, with short daggers like butchers' knives, or clubs
with steel knobs. I watched the faces of the men who entered here.
Some of them, like the Australians and New-Zealanders, unfamiliar with
cathedrals, and not religious by instinct or training, wandered round
in a wondering way, with a touch of scorn, even of hostility, now and
then, for these mysteries--the chanting of the Office, the tinkling of
the bells at the high mass--which were beyond their understanding, and
which they could not link up with any logic of life, as they knew it
now, away up by Bapaume or Bullecourt, where God had nothing to do,
seemingly, with a night raid into Boche lines, when they blew a party
of Germans to bits by dropping Stoke bombs down their dugout, or with
the shrieks of German boys, mad with fear, when the Australians jumped
on them in the darkness and made haste with their killing. All the
same, this great church was wonderful, and the Australians, scrunching
their slouch-hats, stared up at the tall columns to the clerestory
arches, and peered through the screen to the golden sun upon the high-
altar, and touched old tombs with their muddy hands, reading the dates
on them--1250, 1155, 1415--with astonishment at their antiquity. Their
clean-cut hatchet faces, sun--baked, tanned by rain and wind, their
simple blue-gray eyes, the fine, strong grace of their bodies, as they
stood at ease in this place of history, struck me as being wonderfully
like all that one imagines of those English knights and squires--
Norman-English--who rode through France with the Black Prince. It is
as though Australia had bred back to the old strain. Our own English
soldiers were less arresting to the eye, more dapper and neat, not
such evident children of nature. Gravely they walked up the aisles,
standing in groups where a service was in progress, watching the
movements of the priests, listening to the choir and organ with
reverent, dreamy eyes. Some of them--country lads--thought back, I
fancy, to some village church in England where they had sung hymns
with mother and sisters in the days before the war. England and that
little church were a long way off now, perhaps all eternity away. I
saw one boy standing quite motionless, with wet eyes, without self-
consciousness. This music, this place of thoughtfulness, had made
something break in his heart. . . Some of our young officers, but not
many, knelt on the cane chairs and prayed, face in hands. French
officers crossed themselves and their medals tinkled as they walked up
the aisles. Always there were women in black weeds kneeling before the
side--altars, praying to the Virgin for husbands and sons, dead or
alive, lighting candles below holy pictures and statues. Our men
tiptoed past them, holding steel hats or field--caps, and putting
their packs against the pillars. On the steps of the cathedral I heard
two officers talking one day.

"How can one reconcile all this with the war?"

"Why not? . . . I suppose we're fighting for justice and all that.
That's what The Daily Mail tells us."

"Seriously, old man. Where does Christ come in?"

"He wasn't against righteous force. He chased the money-changers out
of the Temple."

"Yes, but His whole teaching was love and forgiveness. 'Thou shalt not
kill.' 'Little children, love one another!' 'Turn the other cheek.' .
. . Is it all sheer tosh? If so, why go on pretending? . . . Take
chaplains in khaki--these lieutenant-colonels with black crosses. They
make me sick. It's either one thing or the other. Brute force or
Christianity. I am harking back to the brute--force theory. But I'm
not going to say 'God is love' one day and then prod a man in the
stomach the next. Let's be consistent."

"The other fellows asked for it. They attacked first."

"Yes, but we are all involved. Our diplomacy, our secret treaties, our
philosophical dope over the masses, our imperial egotism, our trade
rivalries--all that was a direct challenge of Might against Right. The
Germans are more efficient and more logical--that's all. They prepared
for the inevitable and struck first. We knew the inevitable was
coming, but didn't prepare, being too damned inefficient. . . I have a
leaning toward religion. Instinctively I'm for Christ. But it doesn't
work in with efficiency and machine-guns."

"It belongs to another department, that's all. We're spiritual and
animal at the same time. In one part of my brain I'm a gentleman. In
another, a beast. It's conflict. We can't eliminate the beast, but we
can control it now and then when it gets too obstreperous, and that's
where religion helps. It's the high ideal--otherworldliness."

"The Germans pray to the same God. Praise Christ and ask for victory."

"Let them. It may do them a bit of good. It seems to me God is above
all the squabbles of humanity--doesn't care a damn about them!--but
the human soul can get into touch with the infinite and the ideal,
even while he is doing butcher's work, and beastliness. That doesn't
matter very much. It's part of the routine of life."

"But it does matter. It makes agony and damnation in the world. It
creates cruelty and tyranny, and all bloody things. Surely if we
believe in God--anyhow in Christian ethics--this war is a monstrous
crime in which all humanity is involved."

"The Hun started it. . . Let's go and give the glad eye to
Marguerite."


At night, in moonlight, Amiens cathedral was touched with a new
spirituality, a white magic beyond all words of beauty. On many nights
of war I walked round the cathedral square, looking up at that grand
mass of masonry with all its pinnacles and buttresses gleaming like
silver and its sculptured tracery like lacework, and a flood of milky
light glamorous on walls in which every stone was clear-cut beyond a
vast shadow-world. How old it was! How many human eyes through many
centuries had come in the white light of the moon to look at this
dream in stone enshrining the faith of men! The Revolution had surged
round these walls, and the screams of wild women, and their shrill
laughter, and their cries for the blood of aristocrats, had risen from
this square. Pageants of kingship and royal death had passed across
these pavements through the great doors there. Peasant women, in the
darkness, had wept against these walls, praying for God's pity for
their hearts. Now the English officers were lighting cigarettes in the
shelter of a wall, the outline of their features--knightly faces--
touched by the moonlight. There were flashes of gun-fire in the sky
beyond the river.

"A good night for a German air raid," said one of the officers.

"Yes, a lovely night for killing women in their sleep," said the other
man.

The people of Amiens were sleeping, and no light gleamed through their
shutters.




XIII


Coming away from the cathedral through a side-street going into the
rue des Trois Cailloux, I used to pass the Palais de Justice--a big,
grim building, with a long flight of steps leading up to its doorways,
and above the portico the figure of Justice, blind, holding her
scales. There was no justice there during the war, but rooms full of
French soldiers with smashed faces, blind, many of them, like that
woman in stone. They used to sit, on fine days, on the flight of
steps, a tragic exhibition of war for passers-by to see. Many of them
revealed no faces, but were white masks of cotton-wool, bandaged round
their heads. Others showed only the upper parts of their faces, and
the places where their jaws had been were tied up with white rags.
There were men without noses, and men with half their scalps torn
away. French children used to stare through the railings at them,
gravely, with childish curiosity, without pity. English soldiers gave
them a passing glance, and went on to places where they might be made
like this, without faces, or jaws, or noses, or eyes. By their
uniforms I saw that there were Chasseurs Alpins, and Chasseurs
d'Afrique, and young infantrymen of the line, and gunners. They sat,
without restlessness, watching the passers-by if they had eyes to see,
or, if blind, feeling the breeze about them, and listening to the
sound of passing feet.




XIV


The prettiest view of Amiens was from the banks of the Somme outside
the city, on the east side, and there was a charming walk along the
tow-path, past market-gardens going down to the river on the opposite
bank, and past the gardens of little chalets built for love-in-
idleness in days of peace. They were of fantastic architecture--these
Cottages where well-to-do citizens of Amiens used to come for week-
ends of boating and fishing--and their garden gates at the end of
wooden bridges over back-waters were of iron twisted into the shapes
of swans or flowers, and there were snails of terra-cotta on the
chimney-pots, and painted woodwork on the walls, in the worst taste,
yet amusing and pleasing to the eye in their green bowers. I remember
one called Mon Idee, and wondered that any man should be proud of such
a freakish conception of a country house. They were abandoned during
the war, except one or two used for casual rendezvous between French
officers and their light o' loves, and the tow-path was used only by
stray couples who came out for loneliness, and British soldiers
walking out with French girls. The market-gardeners punted down the
river in long, shallow boats, like gondolas, laden high with cabbages,
cauliflowers, and asparagus, and farther up-stream there was a boat-
house where orderlies from the New Zealand hospital in Amiens used to
get skiffs for an hour's rowing, leaning on their oars to look at the
picture of the cathedral rising like a mirage beyond the willows and
the encircling water, with fleecy clouds above its glittering roof, or
lurid storm-clouds with the red glow of sunset beneath their wings. In
the dusk or the darkness there was silence along the banks but for a
ceaseless throbbing of distant gun-fire, rising sometimes to a fury of
drumming when the French soixante-quinze was at work, outside Roye and
the lines beyond Suzanne. It was what the French call la rafale des
tambours de la mort--the ruffle of the drums of death. The winding
waters of the Somme flowed in higher reaches through the hell of war
by Biaches and St.-Christ, this side of Peronne, where dead bodies
floated in slime and blood, and there was a litter of broken bridges
and barges, and dead trees, and ammunition-boxes. The river itself was
a highway into hell, and there came back upon its tide in slow-moving
barges the wreckage of human life, fresh from the torturers. These
barges used to unload their cargoes of maimed men at a carpenter's
yard just below the bridge, outside the city, and often as I passed I
saw human bodies being lifted out and carried on stretchers into the
wooden sheds. They were the bad cases--French boys wounded in the
abdomen or lungs, or with their limbs torn off, or hopelessly
shattered. It was an agony for them to be moved, even on the
stretchers. Some of them cried out in fearful anguish, or moaned like
wounded animals, again and again. Those sounds spoiled the music of
the lapping water and the whispering of the willows and the song of
birds. The sight of these tortured boys, made useless in life, took
the color out of the flowers and the beauty out of that vision of the
great cathedral, splendid above the river. Women watched them from the
bridge, straining their eyes as the bodies were carried to the bank. I
think some of them looked for their own men. One of them spoke to me
one day.

"That is what the Germans do to our sons. Bandits! Assassins!"

"Yes. That is war, Madame."

She put a skinny hand on my arm.

"Will it go on forever, this war? Until all the men are killed?"

"Not so long as that, Madame. Some men will be left alive. The very
old and the very young, and the lucky ones, and those behind the
lines."

"The Germans are losing many men, Monsieur?"

"Heaps, Madame. I have seen their bodies strewn about the fields."

"Ah, that is good! I hope all German women will lose their sons, as I
have lost mine."

"Where was that, Madame?"

"Over there."

She pointed up the Somme.

"He was a good son. A fine boy. It seems only yesterday he lay at my
breast. My man weeps for him. They were good comrades."

"It is sad, Madame."

"Ah, but yes. It is sad! Au revoir, Monsieur."

"Au revoir, Madame."




XV


There was a big hospital in Amiens, close to the railway station,
organized by New Zealand doctors and nurses. I went there one day in
the autumn of 1914, when the army of von Kluck had passed through the
city and gone beyond. The German doctors had left behind the
instruments abandoned by an English unit sharing the retreat. The
French doctor who took me round told me the enemy had behaved well in
Amiens. At least he had refrained from atrocities. As I went through
the long wards I did not guess that one day I should be a patient
there. That was two years later, at the end of the Somme battles. I
was worn out and bloodless after five months of hard strain and
nervous wear and tear. Some bug had bitten me up in the fields where
lay the unburied dead.

"Trench fever," said the doctor.

"You look in need of a rest," said the matron. "My word, how white you
are! Had a hard time, eh, like the rest of them?"

I lay in bed at the end of the officers' ward, with only one other bed
between me and the wall. That was occupied by the gunner-general of
the New Zealand Division. Opposite was another row of beds in which
officers lay sleeping, or reading, or lying still with wistful eyes.

"That's all right. You're going to die!" said a rosy--cheeked young
orderly, after taking my temperature and feeling my pulse. It was his
way of cheering a patient up. He told me how he had been torpedoed in
the Dardanelles while he was ill with dysentery. He indulged in
reminiscences with the New Zealand general who had a grim gift of
silence, but glinting eyes. In the bed on my left was a handsome boy
with a fine, delicate face, a subaltern in the Coldstream Guards, with
a pile of books at his elbow--all by Anatole France. It was the first
time I had ever laid in hospital, and I felt amazingly weak and
helpless, but interested in my surroundings. The day nurse, a tall,
buxom New Zealand girl whom the general chaffed with sarcastic humor,
and who gave back more than she got, went off duty with a cheery,
"Good night, all!" and the night nurse took her place, and made a
first visit to each bed. She was a dainty little woman with the
complexion of a delicate rose and large, luminous eyes. She had a
nunlike look, utterly pure, but with a spiritual fire in those shining
eyes of hers for all these men, who were like children in her hands.
They seemed glad at her coming.

"Good evening, sister!" said one man after another, even one who had
laid with his eyes closed for an hour or more, with a look of death on
his face.

She knelt down beside each one, saying, "How are you to-night?" and
chatting in a low voice, inaudible to the bed beyond. From one bed I
heard a boy's voice say: "Oh, don't go yet, sister! You have only
given me two minutes, and I want ten, at least. I am passionately in
love with you, you know, and I have been waiting all day for your
beauty!"

There was a gust of laughter in the ward.

"The child is at it again!" said one of the officers.

"When are you going to write me another sonnet?" asked the nurse. "The
last one was much admired."

"The last one was rotten," said the boy. "I have written a real corker
this time. Read it to yourself, and don't drop its pearls before these
swine."

"Well, you must be good, or I won't read it at all."

An officer of the British army, who was also a poet, hurled the
bedclothes off and sat on the edge of his bed in his pajamas.

"I'm fed up with everything! I hate war! I don't want to be a hero! I
don't want to die! I want to be loved! . . . I'm a glutton for love!"

In his pajamas the boy looked a child, no older than a schoolboy who
was mine and who still liked to be tucked up in bed by his mother.
With his tousled hair and his petulant grimace, this lieutenant might
have been Peter Pan, from Kensington. The night nurse pretended to
chide him. It was a very gentle chiding, but as abruptly as he had
thrown off his clothes he snuggled under them again and said: "All
right, I'll be good. Only I want a kiss before I go to sleep."

I became good friends with that boy, who was a promising young poet,
and a joyous creature no more fit for war than a child of ten, hating
the muck and horror of it, not ashamed to confess his fear, with a
boyish wistfulness of hope that he might not be killed, because he
loved life. But he was killed. . . I had a letter from his stricken
mother months afterward. The child was "Missing" then, and her heart
cried out for him.

Opposite my bed was a middle-aged man from Lancashire--I suppose he
had been in a cotton-mill or a factory--a hard-headed, simple-hearted
fellow, as good as gold, and always speaking of "the wife." But his
nerves had gone to pieces and he was afraid to sleep because of the
dreams that came to him.

"Sister," he said, "don't let me go to sleep. Wake me up if you see me
dozing. I see terrible things in my dreams. Frightful things. I can't
bear it."

"You will sleep better to-night," she said. "I am putting something in
your milk. Something to stop the dreaming."

But he dreamed. I lay awake, feverish and restless, and heard the man
opposite muttering and moaning, in his sleep. Sometimes he would give
a long, quivering sigh, and sometimes start violently, and then wake
up in a dazed way, saying:

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" trembling with fear, so that the bed was
shaken. The night nurse was always by his side in a moment when he
called out, hushing him down, whispering to him.

"I see pools of blood and bits of dead bodies in my sleep," he told
me. "It's what I saw up at Bazentin. There was a fellow with his face
blown off, walking about. I see him every night. Queer, isn't it?
Nerves, you know. I didn't think I had a nerve in my body before this
war."

The little night nurse came to my bedside.

"Can't you sleep?"

"I'm afraid not. My heart is thumping in a queer way. May I smoke?"

She put a cigarette between my lips and lighted a match.

"Take a few whiffs and then try to sleep. You need lots of sleep."

In the ward there was only the glimmer of night lights in red glasses,
and now and then all through the night matches were lighted,
illuminating the room for a second, followed by the glowing end of a
cigarette shining like a star in the darkness.

The sleeping men breathed heavily, tossed about violently, gave
strange jerks and starts. Sometimes they spoke aloud in their sleep.

"That isn't a dud, you fool! It will blow us to hell."

"Now then, get on with it, can't you?"

"Look out! They're coming! Can't you see them moving by the wire?"

The spirit of war was in that ward and hunted them even in their
sleep; lurking terrors surged up again in their subconsciousness.
Sights which they had tried to forget stared at them through their
closed eyelids. The daylight came and the night nurse slipped away,
and the day nurse shook one's shoulders and said: "Time to wash and
shave. No malingering!"

It was the discipline of the hospital. Men as weak as rats had to sit
up in bed, or crawl out of it, and shave themselves.

"You're merciless!" I said, laughing painfully when the day nurse
dabbed my back with cold iodine at six o'clock on a winter morning,
with the windows wide open.

"Oh, there's no mercy in this place!" said the strong-minded girl.
"It's kill or cure here, and no time to worry."

"You're all devils," said the New Zealand general. "You don't care a
damn about the patients so long as you have all the beds tidy by the
time the doctor comes around. I'm a general, I am, and you can't order
ME about, and if you think I'm going to shave at this time in the
morning you are jolly well mistaken. I am down with dysentery, and
don't you forget it. I didn't get through the Dardanelles to be
murdered at Amiens."

"That's where you may be mistaken, general," said the imperturbable
girl. "I have to carry out orders, and if they lead to your death it's
not my responsibility. I'm paid a poor wage for this job, but I do my
duty, rough or smooth, kill or cure."

"You're a vampire. That's what you are."

"I'm a nurse."

"If ever I hear you're going to marry a New Zealand boy I'll warn him
against you."

"He'll be too much of a fool to listen to you."

"I've a good mind to marry you myself and beat you every morning."

"Modern wives have strong muscles. Look at my arm!"

*     *     *

Three nights in one week there were air raids, and as the German mark
was the railway station we were in the center of the danger-zone.
There was a frightful noise of splintering glass and smashing timber
between each crash of high explosives. The whine of shrapnel from the
anti--aircraft guns had a sinister note, abominable in the ears of
those officers who had come down from the fighting--lines nerve-racked
and fever-stricken. They lay very quiet. The night nurse moved about
from bed to bed, with her flash-lamp. Her face was pale, but she
showed no other sign of fear and was braver than her patients at that
time, though they had done the hero's job all right.

It was in another hospital a year later, when I lay sick again, that
an officer, a very gallant gentleman, said, "If there is another air
raid I shall go mad." He had been stationed near the blast-furnace of
Les Izelquins, near Bethune, and had been in many air raids, when over
sixty-three shells had blown his hut to bits and killed his men, until
he could bear it no more. In the Amiens hospital some of the patients
had their heads under the bedclothes like little children.




XVI


The life of Amiens ended for a while, and the city was deserted by all
its people, after the night of March 30, 1918, which will be
remembered forever to the age-long history of Amiens as its night of
greatest tragedy. For a week the enemy had been advancing across the
old battlefields after the first onslaught in the morning of March
21st, when our lines were stormed and broken by his men's odds against
our defending troops. We war correspondents had suffered mental
agonies like all who knew what had happened better than the troops
themselves. Every day after the first break-through we pushed out in
different directions--Hamilton Fyfe and I went together sometimes
until we came up with the backwash of the great retreat, ebbing back
and back, day after day, with increasing speed, until it drew very
close to Amiens. It was a kind of ordered chaos, terrible to see. It
was a chaos like that of upturned ant-heaps, but with each ant trying
to rescue its eggs and sticks in a persistent, orderly way, directed
by some controlling or communal intelligence, only instead of eggs and
sticks these soldier-ants of ours, in the whole world behind our
front-lines, were trying to rescue heavy guns, motor-lorries, tanks,
ambulances, hospital stores, ordnance stores, steam-rollers,
agricultural implements, transport wagons, railway engines, Y.M.C.A.
tents, gun-horse and mule columns, while rear-guard actions were being
fought within gunfire of them and walking wounded were hobbling back
along the roads in this uproar of traffic, and word came that a
further retreat was happening and that the enemy had broken through
again . . .

Amiens seemed threatened on the morning when, to the north, Albert was
held by a mixed crowd of Scottish and English troops, too thin, as I
could see when I passed through them, to fight any big action, with an
enemy advancing rapidly from Courcellette and outflanking our line by
Montauban and Fricourt. I saw our men marching hastily in retreat to
escape that tightening net, and while the southern side of Amiens was
held by a crowd of stragglers with cyclist battalions, clerks from
headquarters staffs, and dismounted cavalry, commanded by Brigadier-
General Carey, sent down hurriedly to link them together and stop a
widening gap until the French could get to our relief on the right and
until the Australians had come down from Flanders. There was nothing
on that day to prevent the Germans breaking through to Amiens except
the courage of exhausted boys thinly strung out, and the lagging
footsteps of the Germans themselves, who had suffered heavy losses all
the way and were spent for a while by their progress over the wild
ground of the old fighting-fields. Their heavy guns were far behind,
unable to keep pace with the storm troops, and the enemy was relying
entirely on machine-guns and a few field-guns, but most of our guns
were also out of action, captured or falling back to new lines, and
upon the speed with which the enemy could mass his men for a new
assault depended the safety of Amiens and the road to Abbeville and
the coast. If he could hurl fresh divisions of men against our line on
that last night of March, or bring up strong forces of cavalry, or
armored cars, our line would break and Amiens would be lost, and all
our work would be in jeopardy. That was certain. It was visible. It
could not be concealed by any camouflage of hope or courage.

It was after a day on the Somme battlefields, passing through our
retiring troops, that I sat down, with other war correspondents and
several officers, to a dinner in the old Hotel du Rhin in Amiens. It
was a dismal meal, in a room where there had been much laughter and,
throughout the battles of the Somme, in 1916, a coming and going of
generals and staffs and officers of all grades, cheery and high-
spirited at these little tables where there were good wine and not bad
food, and putting away from their minds for the time being the thought
of tragic losses or forlorn battles in which they might fall. In the
quietude of the hotel garden, a little square plot of grass bordered
by flower-beds, I had had strange conversations with boys who had
revealed their souls a little, after dinner in the darkness, their
faces bared now and then by the light of cigarettes or the flare of a
match.

"Death is nothing," said one young officer just down from the Somme
fields for a week's rest-cure for jangled nerves. "I don't care a damn
for death; but it's the waiting for it, the devilishness of its
uncertainty, the sight of one's pals blown to bits about one, and the
animal fear under shell-fire, that break one's pluck. . . My nerves
are like fiddle-strings."

In that garden, other men, with a queer laugh now and then between
their stories, had told me their experiences in shell-craters and
ditches under frightful fire which had "wiped out" their platoons or
companies. A bedraggled stork, the inseparable companion of a waddling
gull, used to listen to the conferences, with one leg tucked under his
wing, and its head on one side, with one watchful, beady eye fixed on
the figures in khaki--until suddenly it would clap its long bill
rapidly in a wonderful imitation of machine-gun fire--"Curse the
bloody bird!" said officers startled by this evil and reminiscent
noise--and caper with ridiculous postures round the imperturbable
gull. . . Beyond the lines, from the dining-room, would come the
babble of many tongues and the laughter of officers telling stories
against one another over their bottles of wine, served by Gaston the
head-waiter, between our discussions on strategy--he was a strategist
by virtue of service in the trenches and several wounds--or by "Von
Tirpitz," an older, whiskered man, or by Joseph, who had a high,
cackling laugh and strong views against the fair sex, and the
inevitable cry, "C'est la guerre!" when officers complained of the
service. . . There had been merry parties in this room, crowded with
the ghosts of many heroic fellows, but it was a gloomy gathering on
that evening at the end of March when we sat there for the last time.
There were there officers who had lost their towns, and "Dadoses"
(Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Supplies) whose stores had gone
up in smoke and flame, and a few cavalry officers back from special
leave and appalled by what had happened in their absence, and a group
of Y.M.C.A. officials who had escaped by the skin of their teeth from
huts now far behind the German lines, and censors who knew that no
blue pencil could hide the truth of the retreat, and war
correspondents who had to write the truth and hated it.

Gaston whispered gloomily behind my chair: "Mon petit caporal"--he
called me that because of a fancied likeness to the young Napoleon--
"dites donc. Vous croyex quils vont passer par Amiens? Non, ce n'est
pas possible, ca! Pour la deuxieme fois? Non. Je refuse a le croire.
Mais c'est mauvais, c'est affreux, apres tant de sacrifice!"

Madame, of the cash-desk, sat in the dining-room, for company's sake,
fixing up accounts as though the last day of reckoning had come. . .as
it had. Her hair, with its little curls, was still in perfect order.
She had two dabs of color on her cheeks, as usual, but underneath a
waxen pallor. She was working out accounts with a young officer, who
smoked innumerable cigarettes to steady his nerves. "Von Tirpitz" was
going round in an absent-minded way, pulling at his long whiskers.

The war correspondents talked together. We spoke gloomily, in low
voices, so that the waiters should not hear.

"If they break through to Abbeville we shall lose the coast."

"Will that be a win for the Germans, even then?"

"It will make it hell in the Channel."

"We shall transfer our base to St.-Nazaire."

"France won't give in now, whatever happens. And England never gives
in."

"We're exhausted, all the same. It's a question of man-power."

"They're bound to take Albert to-night or to-morrow."

"I don't see that at all. There's still a line. . ."

"A line! A handful of tired men."

"It will be the devil if they get into Villers-Bretonneux to-night. It
commands Amiens. They could blow the place off the map."

"They won't."

"We keep on saying, 'They won't.' We said, 'They won't get the Somme
crossings!' but they did. Let's face it squarely, without any damned
false optimism. That has been our curse all through."

"Better than your damned pessimism."

"It's quite possible that they will be in this city tonight. What is
to keep them back? There's nothing up the road."

"It would look silly if we were all captured to-night. How they would
laugh!"

"We shouldn't laugh, though. I think we ought to keep an eye on
things."

"How are we to know? We are utterly without means of communication.
Anything may happen in the night."

Something happened then. It was half past seven in the evening. There
were two enormous crashes outside the windows of the Hotel du Rhin.
All the windows shook and the whole house seemed to rock. There was a
noise of rending wood, many falls of bricks, and a cascade of falling
glass. Instinctively and instantly a number of officers threw
themselves on the floor to escape flying bits of steel and glass
splinters blown sideways. Then some one laughed.

"Not this time!"

The officers rose from the floor and took their places at the table,
and lit cigarettes again. But they were listening. We listened to the
loud hum of airplanes, the well known "zooz-zooz" of the Gothas'
double fuselage. More bombs were dropped farther into the town, with
the same sound of explosives and falling masonry. The anti--aircraft
guns got to work and there was the shrill chorus of shrapnel shells
winging over the roofs.

"Bang! . . . Crash!"

That was nearer again.

Some of the officers strolled out of the dining room.

"They're making a mess outside. Perhaps we'd better get away before it
gets too hot."

Madame from the cash-desk turned to her accounts again. I noticed the
increasing pallor of her skin beneath the two dabs of red. But she
controlled her nerves pluckily; even smiled, too, at the young officer
who was settling up for a group of others.

The moon had risen over the houses of Amiens. It was astoundingly
bright and beautiful in a clear sky and still air, and the streets
were flooded with white light, and the roofs glittered like silver
above intense black shadows under the gables, where the rays were
barred by projecting walls.

"Curse the moon!" said one officer. "How I hate its damned light"

But the moon, cold and smiling, looked down upon the world at war and
into this old city of Amiens, in which bombs were bursting. Women were
running close to the walls. Groups of soldiers made a dash from one
doorway to another. Horses galloped with heavy wagons up the Street of
the Three Pebbles, while shrapnel flickered in the sky above them and
paving-stones were hurled up in bursts of red fire and explosions.
Many horses were killed by flying chunks of steel. They lay bleeding
monstrously so that there were large pools of blood around them.

An officer came into the side door of the Hotel du Rhin. He was white
under his steel hat, which he pushed back while he wiped his forehead.

"A fellow was killed just by my side." he said. "We were standing in a
doorway together and something caught him in the face. He fell like a
log, without a sound, as dead as a door-nail."

There was a flight of midges in the sky, droning with that double note
which vibrated like 'cello strings, very loudly, and with that
sinister noise I could see them quite clearly now and then as they
passed across the face of the moon, black, flitting things, with a
glitter of shrapnel below them. From time to time they went away until
they were specks of silver and black; but always they came back again,
or others came, with new stores of bombs which they unloaded over
Amiens. So it went on all through the night.

I went up to a bedroom and lay on a bed, trying to sleep. But it was
impossible. My will-power was not strong enough to disregard those
crashes in the streets outside, when houses collapsed with frightful
falling noises after bomb explosions. My inner vision foresaw the
ceiling above me pierced by one of those bombs, and the room in which
I lay engulfed in the chaos of this wing of the Hotel du Rhin. Many
times I said, "To hell with it all . . . I'm going to sleep," and then
sat up in the darkness at the renewal of that tumult and switched on
the electric light. No, impossible to sleep! Outside in the corridor
there was a stampede of heavy boots. Officers were running to get into
the cellars before the next crash, which might fling them into the
dismal gulfs. The thought of that cellar pulled me down like the law
of gravity. I walked along the corridor, now deserted, and saw a
stairway littered with broken glass, which my feet scrunched. There
were no lights in the basement of the hotel, but I had a flash-lamp,
going dim, and by its pale eye fumbled my way to a stone passage
leading to the cellar. That flight of stone steps was littered also
with broken glass. In the cellar itself was a mixed company of men who
had been dining earlier in the evening, joined by others who had come
in from the streets for shelter. Some of them had dragged down
mattresses from the bedrooms and were lying there in their trench-
coats, with their steel hats beside them. Others were sitting on
wooden cases, wearing their steel hats, while there were others on
their knees, and their faces in their hands, trying to sleep. There
were some of the town majors who had lost their towns, and some
Canadian cavalry officers, and two or three private soldiers, and some
motor-drivers and orderlies, and two young cooks of the hotel lying
together on dirty straw. By one of the stone pillars of the vaulted
room two American war correspondents--Sims and Mackenzie--were sitting
on a packing-case playing cards on a board between them. They had
stuck candles in empty wine-bottles, and the flickering light played
on their faces and cast deep shadows under their eyes. I stood
watching these men in that cellar and thought what a good subject it
would be for the pencil of Muirhead Bone. I wanted to get a
comfortable place. There was only one place on the bare stones, and
when I lay down there my bones ached abominably, and it was very cold.
Through an aperture in the window came a keen draft and I could see in
a square of moonlit sky a glinting star. It was not much of a cellar.
A direct hit on the Hotel du Rhin would make a nasty mess in this
vaulted room and end a game of cards. After fifteen minutes I became
restless, and decided that the room upstairs, after all, was
infinitely preferable to this damp cellar and these hard stones. I
returned to it and lay down on the bed again and switched off the
light. But the noises outside, the loneliness of the room, the sense
of sudden death fluking overhead, made me sit up again and listen
intently. The Gothas were droning over Amiens again. Many houses round
about were being torn and shattered. What a wreckage was being made of
the dear old city! I paced up and down the room, smoking cigarettes,
one after another, until a mighty explosion, very close, made all my
nerves quiver. No, decidedly, that cellar was the best place. If one
had to die it was better to be in the company of friends. Down I went
again, meeting an officer whom I knew well. He, too, was a wanderer
between the cellar and the abandoned bedrooms.

"I am getting bored with this," he said. "It's absurd to think that
this filthy cellar is any safer than upstairs. But the dugout sense
calls one down. Anyhow, I can't sleep."

We stood looking into the cellar. There was something comical as well
as sinister in the sight of the company there sprawled on the
mattresses, vainly trying to extract comfort out of packing-cases for
pillows, or gas-bags on steel hats. One friend of ours, a cavalry
officer of the old school, looked a cross between Charlie Chaplin and
Ol' Bill, with a fierce frown above his black mustache. Sims and
Mackenzie still played their game of cards, silently, between the
guttering candles.

I think I went from the cellar to the bedroom, and from the bedroom to
the cellar, six times that night. There was never ten minutes' relief
from the drone of Gothas, who were making a complete job of Amiens. It
was at four in the morning that I met the same officer who saw me
wandering before.

"Let us go for a walk," he said. "The birds will be away by dawn."

It was nothing like dawn when we went out of the side door of the
Hotel du Rhin and strolled into the Street of the Three Pebbles. There
was still the same white moonlight, intense and glittering, but with a
paler sky. It shone down upon dark pools of blood and the carcasses of
horses and fragments of flesh, from which a sickly smell rose. The
roadway was littered with bits of timber and heaps of masonry. Many
houses had collapsed into wild chaos, and others, though still
standing, had been stripped of their wooden frontages and their walls
were scarred by bomb-splinters. Every part of the old city, as we
explored it later, had been badly mauled, and hundreds of houses were
utterly destroyed. The air raid ceased at 4.30 A.M., when the first
light of dawn came into the sky. . . .

That day Amiens was evacuated, by command of the French military
authorities, and the inhabitants trailed out of the city, leaving
everything behind them. I saw the women locking up their shops--where
there were any doors to shut or their shop still standing. Many people
must have been killed and buried in the night beneath their own
houses--I never knew how many. The fugitives escaped the next phase of
the tragedy in Amiens when, within a few hours, the enemy sent over
the first high velocities, and for many weeks afterward scattered them
about the city, destroying many other houses. A fire started by these
shells formed a great gap between the rue des Jacobins and the rue des
Trois Cailloux, where there had been an arcade and many good shops and
houses. I saw the fires smoldering about charred beams and twisted
ironwork when I went through the city after the day of exodus.




XVII


It was a pitiful adventure to go through Amiens in the days of its
desolation, and we who had known its people so well hated its
loneliness. All abandoned towns have a tragic aspect--I often think of
Douai, which was left with all its people under compulsion of the
enemy--but Amiens was strangely sinister with heaps of ruins in its
narrow streets, and the abominable noise of high-velocity shells in
flight above its roofs, and crashing now in one direction and now in
another.

One of our sentries came out of a little house near the Place and
said:

"Keep as much as possible to the west side of the town, sir. They've
been falling pretty thick on the east side. Made no end of a mess!"

On the way back from Villers-Bretonneux and the Australian
headquarters, on the left bank of the Somme, we ate sandwiches in the
public gardens outside the Hotel du Rhin. There were big shell-holes
in the flower-beds, and trees had been torn down and flung across the
pathway, and there was a broken statue lying on the grass. Some French
and English soldiers tramped past. Then there was no living soul about
in the place which had been so crowded with life, with pretty women
and children, and young officers doing their shopping, and the
business of a city at work.

"It makes one understand what Rome was like after the barbarians had
sacked and left it," said a friend of mine.

"There is something ghastly about it," said another.

We stood round the Hotel du Rhin, shut up and abandoned. The house
next door had been wrecked, and it was scarred and wounded, but still
stood after that night of terror.

One day during its desolation I went to a banquet in Amiens, in the
cellars of the Hotel de Ville. It was to celebrate the Fourth of July,
and an invitation had been sent to me by the French commandant de
place and the English A. P. M.

It was a beau geste, gallant and romantic in those days of trouble,
when Amiens was still closely beleaguered, but safer now that
Australians and British troops were holding the lines strongly
outside, with French on their right southward from Boves and Hangest
Wood. The French commandant had procured a collection of flags and his
men had decorated the battered city with the Tricolor. It even
fluttered above some of the ruins, as though for the passing of a
pageant. But only a few cars entered the city and drew up to the Town
Hall, and then took cover behind the walls.

Down below, in the cellars, the damp walls were garlanded with flowers
from the market-gardens of the Somme, now deserted by their gardeners,
and roses were heaped on the banqueting-table. General Monash,
commanding the Australian corps, was there, with the general of the
French division on his right. A young American officer sat very grave
and silent, not, perhaps, understanding much of the conversation about
him, because most of the guests were French officers, with Senators
and Deputies of Amiens and its Department. There was good wine to
drink from the cold vaults of the Hotel de Ville, and with the scent
of rose and hope for victory in spite of all disasters--the German
offensive had been checked and the Americans were now coming over in a
tide--it was a cheerful luncheon-party. The old general, black-
visaged, bullet-headed, with a bristly mustache like a French bull--
terrier, sat utterly silent, eating steadily and fiercely. But the
French commandant de place, as handsome as Athos, as gay as
D'Artagnan, raised his glass to England and France, to the gallant
Allies, and to all fair women. He became reminiscent of his days as a
sous-lieutenant. He remembered a girl called Marguerite--she was
exquisite; and another called Yvonne--he had adored her. O life! O
youth! . . . He had been a careless young devil, with laughter in his
heart. . . .




XVIII


I suppose it was three months later when I saw the first crowds coming
back to their homes in Amiens. The tide had turned and the enemy was
in hard retreat. Amiens was safe again! They had never had any doubt
of this homecoming after that day nearly three months before, when, in
spite of the enemy's being so close, Foch said, in his calm way, "I
guarantee Amiens." They believed what Marshal Foch said. He always
knew. So now they were coming back again with their little bundles and
their babies and small children holding their hands or skirts,
according as they had received permits from the French authorities.
They were the lucky ones whose houses still existed. They were
conscious of their own good fortune and came chattering very
cheerfully from the station up the Street of the Three Pebbles, on
their way to their streets. But every now and then they gave a cry of
surprise and dismay at the damage done to other people's houses.

"O la la! Regardez ca! c'est affreux!"

There was the butcher's shop, destroyed; and the house of poor little
Madeleine; and old Christopher's workshop; and the milliner's place,
where they used to buy their Sunday hats; and that frightful gap where
the Arcade had been. Truly, poor Amiens had suffered martyrdom;
though, thank God, the cathedral still stood in glory, hardly touched,
with only one little shellhole through the roof.

Terrible was the damage up the rue de Beauvais and the streets that
went out of it. To one rubbish heap which had been a corner house two
girls came back. Perhaps the French authorities had not had that one
on their list. The girls came tripping home, with light in their eyes,
staring about them, ejaculating pity for neighbors whose houses had
been destroyed. Then suddenly they stood outside their own house and
saw that the direct hit of a shell had knocked it to bits. The light
went out of their eyes. They stood there staring, with their mouths
open. . . Some Australian soldiers stood about and watched the girls,
understanding the drama.

"Bit of a mess, missy!" said one of them. "Not much left of the old
home, eh?"

The girls were amazingly brave. They did not weep. They climbed up a
hillock of bricks and pulled out bits of old, familiar things. They
recovered the whole of a child's perambulator, with its wheels
crushed. With an air of triumph and shrill laughter they turned round
to the Australians.

"Pour les bebes!" they cried.

"While there's life there's hope," said one of the Australians, with
sardonic humor.

So the martyrdom of Amiens was at an end, and life came back to the
city that had been dead, and the soul of the city had survived. I have
not seen it since then, but one day I hope I shall go back and shake
hands with Gaston the waiter and say, "Comment ca va, mon vieux?"
("How goes it, my old one?") and stroll into the bookshop and say,
"Bon jour, mademoiselle!" and walk round the cathedral and see its
beauty in moonlight again when no one will look up and say, "Curse the
moon!"

There will be many ghosts in the city at night--the ghosts of British
officers and men who thronged those streets in the great war and have
now passed on.




PART SIX


Psychology on the Somme


I


All that had gone before was but a preparation for what now was to
come. Until July 1 of 1916 the British armies were only getting ready
for the big battles which were being planned for them by something
greater than generalship--by the fate which decides the doom of men.

The first battles by the Old Contemptibles, down from Mons and up by
Ypres, were defensive actions of rear--guards holding the enemy back
by a thin wall of living flesh, while behind the New Armies of our
race were being raised.

The battles of Festubert, Neuve Chapelle, Loos, and all minor attacks
which led to little salients, were but experimental adventures in the
science of slaughter, badly bungled in our laboratories. They had no
meaning apart from providing those mistakes by which men learn;
ghastly mistakes, burning more than the fingers of life's children.
They were only diversions of impatience in the monotonous routine of
trench warfare by which our men strengthened the mud walls of their
School of Courage, so that the new boys already coming out might learn
their lessons without more grievous interruption than came from the
daily visits of that Intruder to whom the fees were paid. In those two
years it was France which fought the greatest battles, flinging her
sons against the enemy's ramparts in desperate, vain attempts to
breach them. At Verdun, in the months that followed the first month of
'16, it was France which sustained the full weight of the German
offensive on the western front and broke its human waves, until they
were spent in a sea of blood, above which the French poilus, the
"hairy ones," stood panting and haggard, on their death-strewn rocks.
The Germans had failed to deal a fatal blow at the heart of France.
France held her head up still, bleeding from many wounds, but defiant
still; and the German High Command, aghast at their own losses--six
hundred thousand casualties--already conscious, icily, of a dwindling
man-power which one day would be cut off at its source, rearranged
their order of battle and shifted the balance of their weight
eastward, to smash Russia. Somehow or other they must smash a way out
by sledge-hammer blows, left and right, west and east, from that ring
of nations which girdled them. On the west they would stand now on the
defensive, fairly sure of their strength, but well aware that it would
be tried to the utmost by that enemy which, at the back of their
brains (at the back of the narrow brains of those bald-headed vultures
on the German General Staff), they most feared as their future peril--
England. They had been fools to let the British armies grow up and wax
so strong. It was the folly of the madness by which they had flung the
gauntlet down to the souls of proud peoples arrayed against them.

Our armies were now strong and trained and ready. We had about six
hundred thousand bayonet-men in France and Flanders and in England,
immense reserves to fill up the gaps that would be made in their ranks
before the summer foliage turned to russet tints.

Our power in artillery had grown amazingly since the beginning of the
year. Every month I had seen many new batteries arrive, with clean
harness and yellow straps, and young gunners who were quick to get
their targets. We were strong in "heavies," twelve-inchers, 9.2's,
eight-inchers, 4.2's, mostly howitzers, with the long-muzzled sixty-
pounders terrible in their long range and destructiveness. Our
aircraft had grown fast, squadron upon squadron, and our aviators had
been trained in the school of General Trenchard, who sent them out
over the German lines to learn how to fight, and how to scout, and how
to die like little gentlemen.

For a time our flying-men had gone out on old-fashioned "buses"--
primitive machines which were an easy prey to the fast-flying Fokkers
who waited for them behind a screen of cloud and then "stooped" on
them like hawks sure of their prey. But to the airdrome near St.-Omer
came later models, out of date a few weeks after their delivery,
replaced by still more powerful types more perfectly equipped for
fighting. Our knights-errant of the air were challenging the German
champions on equal terms, and beating them back from the lines unless
they flew in clusters. There were times when our flying-men gained an
absolute supremacy by greater daring--there was nothing they did not
dare--and by equal skill. As a caution, not wasting their strength in
unequal contests. It was a sound policy, and enabled them to come back
again in force and hold the field for a time by powerful
concentrations. But in the battles of the Somme our airmen, at a heavy
cost of life, kept the enemy down a while and blinded his eyes.

The planting of new airdromes between Albert and Amiens, the long
trail down the roads of lorries packed with wings and the furniture of
aircraft factories, gave the hint, to those who had eyes to see, that
in this direction a merry hell was being prepared.

There were plain signs of massacre at hand all the way from the coast
to the lines. At Etaples and other places near Boulogne hospital huts
and tents were growing like mushrooms in the night. From casualty
clearing stations near the front the wounded--the human wreckage of
routine warfare--were being evacuated "in a hurry" to the base, and
from the base to England. They were to be cleared out of the way so
that all the wards might be empty for a new population of broken men,
in enormous numbers. I went down to see this clearance, this tidying
up. There was a sinister suggestion in the solitude that was being
made for a multitude that was coming.

"We shall be very busy," said the doctors.

"We must get all the rest we can now," said the nurses.

"In a little while every bed will be filled," said the matrons.

Outside one hut, with the sun on their faces, were four wounded
Germans, Wurtemburgers and Bavarians, too ill to move just then. Each
of them had lost a leg under the surgeon's knife. They were eating
strawberries, and seemed at peace. I spoke to one of them.

"Wie befinden sie sich?"

"Ganz wohl; wir sind zufrieden mit unsere behandlung."

I passed through the shell-shock wards and a yard where the "shell-
shocks" sat about, dumb, or making queer, foolish noises, or staring
with a look of animal fear in their eyes. From a padded room came a
sound of singing. Some idiot of war was singing between bursts of
laughter. It all seemed so funny to him, that war, so mad!

"We are clearing them out," said the medical officer. "There will be
many more soon."

How soon? That was a question nobody could answer. It was the only
secret, and even that was known in London, where little ladies in
society were naming the date, "in confidence," to men who were
directly concerned with it--having, as they knew, only a few more
weeks, or days, of certain life. But I believe there were not many
officers who would have surrendered deliberately all share in "The
Great Push." In spite of all the horror which these young officers
knew it would involve, they had to be "in it" and could not endure the
thought that all their friends and all their men should be there while
they were "out of it." A decent excuse for the safer side of it--yes.
A staff job, the Intelligence branch, any post behind the actual
shambles--and thank God for the luck. But not an absolute shirk.

Tents were being pitched in many camps of the Somme, rows and rows of
bell tents and pavilions stained to a reddish brown. Small cities of
them were growing up on the right of the road between Amiens and
Albert--at Dernancourt and Daours and Vaux-sous-Corbie. I thought they
might be for troops in reserve until I saw large flags hoisted to tall
staffs and men of the R.A.M.C. busy painting signs on large sheets
stretched out on the grass. It was always the same sign--the Sign of
the Cross that was Red.

There was a vast traffic of lorries on the roads, and trains were
traveling on light railways day and night to railroads just beyond
shell-range. What was all the weight they carried? No need to ask. The
"dumps" were being filled, piled up, with row upon row of shells,
covered by tarpaulin or brushwood when they were all stacked. Enormous
shells, some of them, like gigantic pigs without legs. Those were for
the fifteen-inchers, or the 9.2's. There was enough high-explosive
force littered along those roads above the Somme to blow cities off
the map.

"It does one good to see," said a cheery fellow. "The people at home
have been putting their backs into it. Thousands of girls have been
packing those things. Well done, Munitions!"

I could take no joy in the sight, only a grim kind of satisfaction
that at least when our men attacked they would have a power of
artillery behind them. It might help them to smash through to a
finish, if that were the only way to end this long-drawn suicide of
nations.

My friend was shocked when I said:

"Curse all munitions!"




II


The British armies as a whole were not gloomy at the approach of that
new phase of war which they called "The Great Push," as though it were
to be a glorified football-match. It is difficult, perhaps impossible,
to know the thoughts of vast masses of men moved by some sensational
adventure. But a man would be a liar if he pretended that British
troops went forward to the great attack with hangdog looks or any
visible sign of fear in their souls. I think most of them were
uplifted by the belief that the old days of trench warfare were over
forever and that they would break the enemy's lines by means of that
enormous gun-power behind them, and get him "on the run." There would
be movement, excitement, triumphant victories--and then the end of the
war. In spite of all risks it would be enormously better than the
routine of the trenches. They would be getting on with the job instead
of standing still and being shot at by invisible earth-men.

"If we once get the Germans in the open we shall go straight through
them."

That was the opinion of many young officers at that time, and for once
they agreed with their generals.

It seemed to be a question of getting them in the open, and I confess
that when I studied the trench maps and saw the enemy's defensive
earthworks thirty miles deep in one vast maze of trenches and redoubts
and barbed wire and tunnels I was appalled at the task which lay
before our men. They did not know what they were being asked to do.

They had not seen, then, those awful maps.

We were at the height and glory of our strength. Out of England had
come the flower of our youth, and out of Scotland and Wales and Canada
and Australia and New Zealand. Even out of Ireland, with the 16th
Division of the south and west, and the 36th of Ulster. The New Armies
were made up of all the volunteers who had answered the call to the
colors, not waiting for the conscription by class, which followed
later. They were the ardent ones, the young men from office, factory,
shop, and field, university and public school. The best of our
intelligence were there, the noblest of our manhood, the strength of
our heart, the beauty of our soul, in those battalions which soon were
to be flung into explosive fires.




III


In the month of May a new type of manhood was filling the old roads
behind the front.

I saw them first in the little old town of St.-Pol, where always there
was a coming and going of French and English soldiers. It was market-
day and the Grande Place (not very grand) was crowded with booths and
old ladies in black, and young girls with checkered aprons over their
black frocks, and pigs and clucking fowls. Suddenly the people
scattered, and there was a rumble and rattle of wheels as a long line
of transport wagons came through the square.

"By Jove! . . . Australians!"

There was no mistaking them. Their slouch-hats told one at a glance,
but without them I should have known. They had a distinctive type of
their own, which marked them out from all other soldiers of ours along
those roads of war.

They were hatchet-faced fellows who came riding through the little old
market town; British unmistakably, yet not English, not Irish, nor
Scottish, nor Canadian. They looked hard, with the hardness of a
boyhood and a breeding away from cities or, at least, away from the
softer training of our way of life. They had merry eyes (especially
for the girls round the stalls), but resolute, clean-cut mouths, and
they rode their horses with an easy grace in the saddle, as though
born to riding, and drove their wagons with a recklessness among the
little booths that was justified by half an inch between an iron axle
and an old woman's table of colored ribbons.

Those clean-shaven, sun-tanned, dust-covered men, who had come out of
the hell of the Dardanelles and the burning drought of Egyptian sands,
looked wonderfully fresh in France. Youth, keen as steel, with a flash
in the eyes, with an utter carelessness of any peril ahead, came
riding down the street.

They were glad to be there. Everything was new and good to them
(though so old and stale to many of us), and after their adventures in
the East they found it splendid to be in a civilized country, with
water in the sky and in the fields, with green trees about them, and
flowers in the grass, and white people who were friendly.

When they came up in the train from Marseilles they were all at the
windows, drinking in the look of the French landscape, and one of
their officers told me that again and again he heard the same words
spoken by those lads of his.

"It's a good country to fight for . . . It's like being home again."

At first they felt chilly in France, for the weather had been bad for
them during the first weeks in April, when the wind had blown cold and
rain-clouds had broken into sharp squalls.

Talking to the men, I saw them shiver a little and heard their teeth
chatter, but they said they liked a moist climate with a bite in the
wind, after all the blaze and glare of the Egyptian sun.

One of their pleasures in being there was the opportunity of buying
sweets! "They can't have too much of them," said one of the officers,
and the idea that those hard fellows, whose Homeric fighting qualities
had been proved, should be enthusiastic for lollipops seemed to me an
amusing touch of character. For tough as they were, and keen as they
were, those Australian soldiers were but grown-up children with a
wonderful simplicity of youth and the gift of laughter.

I saw them laughing when, for the first time, they tried on the gas-
masks which none of us ever left behind when we went near the
fighting-line. That horror of war on the western front was new to
them.

Poison-gas was not one of the weapons used by the Turks, and the gas-
masks seemed a joke to the groups of Australians trying on the
headgear in the fields, and changing themselves into obscene specters
. . . But one man watching them gave a shudder and said, "It's a pity
such splendid boys should have to risk this foul way of death." They
did not hear his words, and we heard their laughter again.

On that first day of their arrival I stood in a courtyard with a young
officer whose gray eyes had a fine, clear light, which showed the
spirit of the man, and as we talked he pointed out some of the boys
who passed in and out of an old barn. One of them had done fine work
on the Peninsula, contemptuous of all risks. Another had gone out
under heavy fire to bring in a wounded friend . . . "Oh, they are
great lads!" said the captain of the company. "But now they want to
get at the Germans and finish the job quickly. Give them a fair chance
and they'll go far."

They went far, from that time to the end, and fought with a simple,
terrible courage.

They had none of the discipline imposed upon our men by Regular
traditions. They were gipsy fellows, with none but the gipsy law in
their hearts, intolerant of restraint, with no respect for rank or
caste unless it carried strength with it, difficult to handle behind
the lines, quick-tempered, foul-mouthed, primitive men, but lovable,
human, generous souls when their bayonets were not red with blood.
Their discipline in battle was the best. They wanted to get to a place
ahead. They would fight the devils of hell to get there.

The New-Zealanders followed them, with rosy cheeks like English boys
of Kent, and more gentle manners than the other "Anzacs," and the same
courage. They went far, too, and set the pace awhile in the last lap.
But that, in the summer of '16, was far away.

In those last days of June, before the big battles began, the
countryside of the Somme valley was filled with splendor. The mustard
seed had spread a yellow carpet in many meadows so that they were
Fields of the Cloth of Gold, and clumps of red clover grew like
flowers of blood. The hedges about the villages of Picardy were white
with elderflower and drenched with scent. It was haymaking time and
French women and children were tossing the hay on wooden pitchforks
during hot days which came between heavy rains. Our men were marching
through that beauty, and were conscious of it, I think, and glad of
life.




IV


Boulogne was a port through which all our youth passed between England
and the long, straight road which led to No Man's Land. The seven-day-
leave men were coming back by every tide, and all other leave was
canceled.

New "drafts" were pouring through the port by tens of thousands--all
manner of men of all our breed marching in long columns from the
quayside, where they had orders yelled at them through megaphones by
A.P.M.'s, R.T.O.'s, A.M.L.O.'s, and other blue tabbed officers who
dealt with them as cattle for the slaughterhouses. I watched them
landing from the transports which came in so densely crowded with the
human freight that the men were wedged together on the decks like
herrings in barrels. They crossed from one boat to another to reach
the gangways, and one by one, interminably as it seemed, with rifle
gripped and pack hunched, and steel hat clattering like a tinker's
kettle, came down the inclined plank and lurched ashore. They were
English lads from every country; Scots, Irish, Welsh, of every
regiment; Australians, New-Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians, West
Indian negroes of the Garrison Artillery; Sikhs, Pathans, and Dogras
of the Indian Cavalry. Some of them had been sick and there was a
greenish pallor on their faces. Most of them were deeply tanned. Many
of them stepped on the quayside of France for the first time after
months of training, and I could tell those, sometimes, by the furtive
look they gave at the crowded scene about them, and by a sudden glint
in their eyes, a faint reflection of the emotion that was in them,
because this was another stage on their adventure of war, and the
drawbridge was down at last between them and the enemy. That was
all,just that look, and lips tightened now grimly, and the pack
hunched higher. Then they fell in by number and marched away, with
Redcaps to guard them, across the bridge, into the town of Boulogne
and beyond to the great camp near Etaples (and near the hospital, so
that German aircraft had a good argument for smashing Red Cross huts),
where some of them would wait until somebody said, "You're wanted."
They were wanted in droves as soon as the fighting began on the first
day of July.

The bun shops in Boulogne were filled with nurses, V.A.D.'s, all kinds
of girls in uniforms which glinted with shoulder-straps and buttons.
They ate large quantities of buns at odd hours of mornings and
afternoons. Flying-men and officers of all kinds waiting for trains
crowded the Folkestone Hotel and restaurants, where they spent two
hours over luncheon and three hours over dinner, drinking red wine,
talking "shop"--the shop of trench-mortar units, machine-gun sections,
cavalry squadrons, air-fighting, gas schools, and anti-gas schools.
Regular inhabitants of Boulogne, officers at the base, passed to inner
rooms with French ladies of dangerous appearance, and the transients
envied them and said: "Those fellows have all the luck! What's their
secret? How do they arrange these cushie jobs?" From open windows came
the music of gramophones. Through half-drawn curtains there were
glimpses of khaki tunics and Sam Brown belts in juxtaposition with
silk blouses and coiled hair and white arms. Opposite the Folkestone
there was a park of ambulances driven by "Scottish women," who were
always on the move from one part of the town to the other. Motor-cars
came hooting with staff-officers, all aglow in red tabs and armbands,
thirsty for little cocktails after a dusty drive. Everywhere in the
streets and on the esplanade there was incessant saluting. The arms of
men were never still. It was like the St. Vitus disease. Tommies and
Jocks saluted every subaltern with an automatic gesture of convulsive
energy. Every subaltern acknowledged these movements and in turn
saluted a multitude of majors, colonels, and generals. The thing
became farcical, a monstrous absurdity of human relationship, yet
pleasing to the vanity of men lifted up above the lowest caste. It
seemed to me an intensification of the snob instinct in the soul of
man. Only the Australians stood out against it, and went by all
officers except their own with a careless slouch and a look of "To
hell with all that handwagging."

Seated on high stools in the Folkestone, our young officers clinked
their cocktails, and then whispered together.

"When's it coming?"

"In a few days . . . I'm for the Gommecourt sector."

"Do you think we shall get through?"

"Not a doubt of it. The cavalry are massing for a great drive. As soon
as we make the gap they'll ride into the blue."

"By God! . . . There'll be some slaughter"

"I think the old Boche will crack this time."

"Well, cheerio!"

There was a sense of enormous drama at hand, and the excitement of it
in boys' hearts drugged all doubt and fears. It was only the older
men, and the introspective, who suffered from the torture of
apprehension. Even timid fellows in the ranks were, I imagine,
strengthened and exalted by the communal courage of their company or
battalion, for courage as well as fear is infectious, and the
psychology of the crowd uplifts the individual to immense heights of
daring when alone he would be terror--stricken. The public-school
spirit of pride in name and tradition was in each battalion of the New
Army, extended later to the division, which became the unit of esprit
de corps. They must not "let the battalion down." They would do their
damnedest to get farther than any other crowd, to bag more prisoners,
to gain more "kudos." There was rivalry even among the platoons and
the companies. "A" Company would show "B" Company the way to go! Their
sergeant-major was a great fellow! Their platoon commanders were fine
kids! With anything like a chance--

In that spirit, as far as I, an outsider could see and hear, did our
battalions of boys march forward to "The Great Push," whistling,
singing, jesting, until their lips were dry and their throats parched
in the dust, and even the merriest jesters of all were silent under
the weight of their packs and rifles. So they moved up day by day,
through the beauty of that June in France, thousands of men, hundreds
of thousands to the edge of the battlefields of the Somme, where the
enemy was intrenched in fortress positions and where already, before
the last days of June, gunfire was flaming over a vast sweep of
country.




V


On the 1st of July, 1916, began those prodigious battles which only
lulled down at times during two and a half years more, when our
British armies fought with desperate sacrificial valor beyond all
previous reckoning; when the flower of our youth was cast into that
furnace month after month, recklessly, with prodigal, spendthrift
haste; when those boys were mown down in swaths by machine-guns, blown
to bits by shell-fire, gassed in thousands, until all that country
became a graveyard; when they went forward to new assaults or fell
back in rearguard actions with a certain knowledge that they had in
their first attack no more than one chance in five of escape, next
time one chance in four, then one chance in three, one chance in two,
and after that no chance at all, on the line of averages, as worked
out by their experience of luck. More boys came out to take their
places, and more, and more, conscripts following volunteers, younger
brothers following elder brothers. Never did they revolt from the
orders that came to them. Never a battalion broke into mutiny against
inevitable martyrdom. They were obedient to the command above them.
Their discipline did not break. However profound was the despair of
the individual, and it was, I know, deep as the wells of human tragedy
in many hearts, the mass moved as it was directed, backward or
forward, this way and that, from one shambles to another, in mud and
in blood, with the same massed valor as that which uplifted them
before that first day of July with an intensified pride in the fame of
their divisions, with a more eager desire for public knowledge of
their deeds, with a loathing of war's misery, with a sense of its
supreme folly, yet with a refusal in their souls to acknowledge defeat
or to stop this side of victory. In each battle there were officers
and men who risked death deliberately, and in a kind of ecstasy did
acts of superhuman courage; and because of the number of these feats
the record of them is monotonous, dull, familiar. The mass followed
their lead, and even poor coward-hearts, of whom there were many, as
in all armies, had courage enough, as a rule, to get as far as the
center of the fury before their knees gave way or they dropped dead.

Each wave of boyhood that came out from England brought a new mass of
physical and spiritual valor as great as that which was spent, and in
the end it was an irresistible tide which broke down the last barriers
and swept through in a rush to victory, which we gained at the cost of
nearly a million dead, and a high sum of living agony, and all our
wealth, and a spiritual bankruptcy worse than material loss, so that
now England is for a time sick to death and drained of her old pride
and power.




VI


I remember, as though it were yesterday in vividness and a hundred
years ago in time, the bombardment which preceded the battles of the
Somme. With a group of officers I stood on the high ground above
Albert, looking over to Gommecourt and Thiepval and La Boisselle, on
the left side of the German salient, and then, by crossing the road,
to Fricourt, Mametz, and Montauban on the southern side. From Albert
westward past Thiepval Wood ran the little river of the Ancre, and on
the German side the ground rose steeply to Usna Hill by La Boisselle,
and to Thiepval Chateau above the wood. It was a formidable defensive
position, one fortress girdled by line after line of trenches, and
earthwork redoubts, and deep tunnels, and dugouts in which the German
troops could live below ground until the moment of attack. The length
of our front of assault was about twenty miles round the side of the
salient to the village of Bray, on the Somme, where the French joined
us and continued the battle.

From where we stood we could see a wide panorama of the German
positions, and beyond, now and then, when the smoke of shellfire
drifted, I caught glimpses of green fields and flower patches beyond
the trench lines, and church spires beyond the range of guns rising
above clumps of trees in summer foliage. Immediately below, in the
foreground, was the village of Albert, not much ruined then, with its
red-brick church and tower from which there hung, head downward, the
Golden Virgin with her Babe outstretched as though as a peace-offering
over all this strife. That leaning statue, which I had often passed on
the way to the trenches, was now revealed brightly with a golden
glamour, as sheets of flame burst through a heavy veil of smoke over
the valley. In a field close by some troops were being ticketed with
yellow labels fastened to their backs. It was to distinguish them so
that artillery observers might know them from the enemy when their
turn came to go into the battleground. Something in the sight of those
yellow tickets made me feel sick. Away behind, a French farmer was
cutting his grass with a long scythe, in steady, sweeping strokes.
Only now and then did he stand to look over at the most frightful
picture of battle ever seen until then by human eyes. I wondered, and
wonder still, what thoughts were passing through that old brain to
keep him at his work, quietly, steadily, on the edge of hell. For
there, quite close and clear, was hell, of man's making, produced by
chemists and scientists, after centuries in search of knowledge. There
were the fires of hate, produced out of the passion of humanity after
a thousand years of Christendom and of progress in the arts of beauty.
There was the devil-worship of our poor, damned human race, where the
most civilized nations of the world were on each side of the bonfires.
It was worth watching by a human ant.

I remember the noise of our guns as all our batteries took their parts
in a vast orchestra of drumfire. The tumult of the fieldguns merged
into thunderous waves. Behind me a fifteen-inch "Grandmother" fired
single strokes, and each one was an enormous shock. Shells were
rushing through the air like droves of giant birds with beating wings
and with strange wailings. The German lines were in eruption. Their
earthworks were being tossed up, and fountains of earth sprang up
between columns of smoke, black columns and white, which stood rigid
for a few seconds and then sank into the banks of fog. Flames gushed
up red and angry, rending those banks of mist with strokes of
lightning. In their light I saw trees falling, branches tossed like
twigs, black things hurtling through space. In the night before the
battle, when that bombardment had lasted several days and nights, the
fury was intensified. Red flames darted hither and thither like little
red devils as our trench mortars got to work. Above the slogging of
the guns there were louder, earth-shaking noises, and volcanoes of
earth and fire spouted as high as the clouds. One convulsion of this
kind happened above Usna Hill, with a long, terrifying roar and a
monstrous gush of flame.

"What is that?" asked some one.

"It must be the mine we charged at La Boisselle. The biggest that has
ever been."

It was a good guess. When, later in the battle, I stood by the crater
of that mine and looked into its gulf I wondered how many Germans had
been hurled into eternity when the earth had opened. The grave was big
enough for a battalion of men with horses and wagons, below the chalk
of the crater's lips. Often on the way to Bapaume I stepped off the
road to look into that white gulf, remembering the moment when I saw
the gust of flame that rent the earth about it.




VII


There was the illusion of victory on that first day of the Somme
battles, on the right of the line by Fricourt, and it was not until a
day or two later that certain awful rumors I had heard from wounded
men and officers who had attacked on the left up by Gommecourt,
Thiepval, and Serre were confirmed by certain knowledge of tragic
disaster on that side of the battle-line.

The illusion of victory, with all the price and pain of it, came to me
when I saw the German rockets rising beyond the villages of Mametz and
Montauban and our barrage fire lifting to a range beyond the first
lines of German trenches, and our support troops moving forward in
masses to captured ground. We had broken through! By the heroic
assault of our English and Scottish troops. West Yorks, Yorks and
Lancs, Lincolns, Durhams, Northumberland Fusiliers, Norfolks and
Berkshires, Liverpools, Manchesters, Gordons, and Royal Scots, all
those splendid men I had seen marching to their lines. We had smashed
through the ramparts of the German fortress, through that maze of
earthworks and tunnels which had appalled me when I saw them on the
maps, and over which I had gazed from time to time from our front-line
trenches when those places seemed impregnable. I saw crowds of
prisoners coming back under escort,fifteen hundred had been counted in
the first day,and they had the look of a defeated army. Our lightly
wounded men, thousands of them, were shouting and laughing as they
came down behind the lines, wearing German caps and helmets. From
Amiens civilians straggled out along the roads as far as they were
allowed by military police, and waved hands and cheered those boys of
ours. "Vive l'Angleterre!" cried old men, raising their hats. Old
women wept at the sight of those gay wounded, the lightly touched,
glad of escape, rejoicing in their luck and in the glory of life which
was theirs still and cried out to them with shrill words of praise and
exultation.

"Nous les aurons les sales Boches! Ah, ils sont foutus, ces bandits!
C'est la victoire, grace a vous, petits soldats anglais!"

Victory! The spirit of victory in the hearts of fighting men, and of
women excited by the sight of those bandaged heads, those bare, brawny
arms splashed with blood, those laughing heroes.

It looked like victory, in those days, as war correspondents, we were
not so expert in balancing the profit and loss as afterward we became.
When I went into Fricourt on the third day of battle, after the last
Germans, who had clung on to its ruins, had been cleared out by the
Yorkshires and Lincolns of the 21st Division, that division which had
been so humiliated at Loos and now was wonderful in courage, and when
the Manchesters and Gordons of the 30th Division had captured
Montauban and repulsed fierce counter-attacks.

It looked like victory, because of the German dead that lay there in
their battered trenches and the filth and stench of death over all
that mangled ground, and the enormous destruction wrought by our guns,
and the fury of fire which we were still pouring over the enemy's
lines from batteries which had moved forward.

I went down flights of steps into German dugouts, astonished by their
depth and strength. Our men did not build like this. This German
industry was a rebuke to us, yet we had captured their work and the
dead bodies of their laborers lay in those dark caverns, killed by our
bombers, who had flung down handgrenades. I drew back from those fat
corpses. They looked monstrous, lying there crumpled up, amid a foul
litter of clothes, stickbombs, old boots, and bottles. Groups of dead
lay in ditches which had once been trenches, flung into chaos by that
bombardment I had seen. They had been bayoneted. I remember one man,
an elderly fellow sitting up with his back to a bit of earth with his
hands half raised. He was smiling a little, though he had been stabbed
through the belly and was stone dead. Victory! some of the German dead
were young boys, too young to be killed for old men's crimes, and
others might have been old or young. One could not tell, because they
had no faces, and were just masses of raw flesh in rags and uniforms.
Legs and arms lay separate, without any bodies thereabouts.

Outside Montauban there was a heap of our own dead. Young Gordons and
Manchesters of the 30th Division, they had been caught by blasts of
machinegun fire, but our dead seemed scarce in the places where I
walked.

Victory?  Well, we had gained some ground, and many prisoners, and
here and there some guns. But as I stood by Montauban I saw that our
line was a sharp salient looped round Mametz village and then dipping
sharply southward to Fricourt. 0 God! had we only made another salient
after all that monstrous effort? To the left there was fury at La
Boisselle, where a few broken trees stood black on the skyline on a
chalky ridge. Storms of German shrapnel were bursting there, and
machineguns were firing in spasms. In Contalmaison, round a chateau
which stood high above ruined houses, shells were bursting with
thunderclaps, our shells. German gunners in invisible batteries were
sweeping our lines with barrage fire, it roamed up and down this side
of Montauban Wood, just ahead of me, and now and then shells smashed
among the houses and barns of Fricourt, and over Mametz there was
suddenly a hurricane of "hate." Our men were working like ants in
those muck heaps, a battalion moved up toward Boisselle. From a ridge
above Fricourt, where once I had seen a tall crucifix between two
trees, which our men called the "Poodles," a body of men came down and
shrapnel burst among them and they fell and disappeared in tall grass.
Stretcher bearers came slowly through Fricourt village with living
burdens. Some of them were German soldiers carrying our wounded and
their own. Walking wounded hobbled slowly with their arms round each
other's shoulders, Germans and English together. A boy in a steel hat
stopped me and held up a bloody hand. "A bit of luck!" he said. "I'm
off, after eighteen months of it."

German prisoners came down with a few English soldiers as their
escort. I saw distant groups of them, and a shell smashed into one
group and scattered it. The living ran, leaving their dead. Ambulances
driven by daring fellows drove to the far edge of Fricourt, not a
healthy place, and loaded up with wounded from a dressing station in a
tunnel there.

It was a wonderful picture of war in all its filth and shambles. But
was it Victory?  I knew then that it was only a breach in the German
bastion, and that on the left, Gommecourt way, there had been black
tragedy.




VIII


On the left, where the 8th and l0th Corps were directing operations,
the assault had been delivered by the 4th, 29th, 36th, 49th, 32nd,
8th, and 56th Divisions.

The positions in front of them were Gommecourt and Beaumont Hamel on
the left side of the River Ancre, and Thiepval Wood on the right side
of the Ancre leading up to Thiepval Chateau on the crest of the cliff.
These were the hardest positions to attack, because of the rising
ground and the immense strength of the enemy's earthworks and tunneled
defenses. But our generals were confident that the gun power at their
disposal was sufficient to smash down that defensive system and make
an easy way through for the infantry. They were wrong. In spite of
that tornado of shell-fire which I had seen tearing up the earth, many
tunnels were still unbroken, and out of them came masses of German
machine-gunners and riflemen, when our infantry rose from their own
trenches on that morning of July 1st.

Our guns had shifted their barrage forward at that moment, farther
ahead of the infantry than was afterward allowed, the men being
trained to follow close to the lines of bursting shells, trained to
expect a number of casualties from their own guns--it needs some
training--in order to secure the general safety gained by keeping the
enemy below ground until our bayonets were round his dugouts.

The Germans had been trained, too, to an act of amazing courage. Their
discipline, that immense power of discipline which dominates men in
the mass, was strong enough to make them obey the order to rush
through that barrage of ours, that advancing wall of explosion and, if
they lived through it, to face our men in the open with massed
machine-gun fire. So they did; and as English, Irish, Scottish, and
Welsh battalions of our assaulting divisions trudged forward over what
had been No Man's Land, machine-gun bullets sprayed upon them, and
they fell like grass to the scythe. Line after line of men followed
them, and each line crumpled, and only small groups and single
figures, seeking comradeship, hurried forward. German machine-gunners
were bayoneted as their thumbs were still pressed to their triggers.
In German front-line trenches at the bottom of Thiepval Wood, outside
Beaumont Hamel and on the edge of Gommecourt Park, the field-gray men
who came out of their dugouts fought fiercely with stick-bombs and
rifles, and our officers and men, in places where they had strength
enough, clubbed them to death, stuck them with bayonets, and blew
their brains out with revolvers at short range. Then those English and
Irish and Scottish troops, grievously weak because of all the dead and
wounded behind them, struggled through to the second German line, from
which there came a still fiercer rattle of machine-gun and rifle-fire.
Some of them broke through that line, too, and went ahead in isolated
parties across the wild crater land, over chasms and ditches and
fallen trees, toward the highest ground, which had been their goal.
Nothing was seen of them. They disappeared into clouds of smoke and
flame. Gunner observers saw rockets go up in far places--our rockets--
showing that outposts had penetrated into the German lines. Runners
came back--survivors of many predecessors who had fallen on the way--
with scribbled messages from company officers. One came from the Essex
and King's Own of the 4th Division, at a place called Pendant Copse,
southeast of Serre. "For God's sake send us bombs." It was impossible
to send them bombs. No men could get to them through the deep barrage
of shell-fire which was between them and our supporting troops. Many
tried and died.

The Ulster men went forward toward Beaumont Hamel with a grim valor
which was reckless of their losses. Beaumont Hamel was a German
fortress. Machine-gun fire raked every yard of the Ulster way.
Hundreds of the Irish fell. I met hundreds of them wounded--tall,
strong, powerful men, from Queen's Island and Belfast factories, and
Tyneside Irish and Tyneside Scots.

"They gave us no chance," said one of them--a sergeant-major. "They
just murdered us."

But bunches of them went right into the heart of the German positions,
and then found behind them crowds of Germans who had come up out of
their tunnels and flung bombs at them. Only a few came back alive in
the darkness.

Into Thiepval Wood men of ours smashed their way through the German
trenches, not counting those who fell, and killing any German who
stood in their way. Inside that wood of dead trees and charred
branches they reformed, astonished at the fewness of their numbers.
Germans coming up from holes in the earth attacked them, and they held
firm and took two hundred prisoners. Other Germans came closing in
like wolves, in packs, and to a German officer who said, "Surrender!"
our men shouted, "No surrender!" and fought in Thiepval Wood until
most were dead and only a few wounded crawled out to tell that tale.

The Londoners of the 56th Division had no luck at all. Theirs was the
worst luck because, by a desperate courage in assault, they did break
through the German lines at Gommecourt. Their left was held by the
London Rifle Brigade. The Rangers and the Queen Victoria Rifles--the
old "Vics "--formed their center. Their right was made up by the
London Scottish, and behind came the Queen's Westminsters and the
Kensingtons, who were to advance through their comrades to a farther
objective. Across a wide No Man's Land they suffered from the bursting
of heavy crumps, and many fell. But they escaped annihilation by
machine-gun fire and stormed through the upheaved earth into
Gommecourt Park, killing many Germans and sending back batches of
prisoners. They had done what they had been asked to do, and started
building up barricades of earth and sand-bags, and then found they
were in a death-trap. There were no troops on their right or left.
They had thrust out into a salient, which presently the enemy saw. The
German gunners, with deadly skill, boxed it round with shell-fire, so
that the Londoners were inclosed by explosive walls, and then very
slowly and carefully drew a line of bursting shells up and down, up
and down that captured ground, ravaging its earth anew and smashing
the life that crouched there--London life.

I have written elsewhere (in The Battles of the Somme) how young
officers and small bodies of these London men held the barricades
against German attacks while others tried to break a way back through
that murderous shell-fire, and how groups of lads who set out on that
adventure to their old lines were shattered so that only a few from
each group crawled back alive, wounded or unwounded.

At the end of the day the Germans acted with chivalry, which I was not
allowed to tell at the time. The general of the London Division
(Philip Howell) told me that the enemy sent over a message by a low-
flying airplane, proposing a truce while the stretcher-bearers worked,
and offering the service of their own men in that work of mercy. This
offer was accepted without reference to G.H.Q., and German stretcher-
bearers helped to carry our wounded to a point where they could be
reached.

Many, in spite of that, remained lying out in No Man's Land, some for
three or four days and nights. I met one man who lay out there
wounded, with a group of comrades more badly hurt than he was, until
July 6th. At night he crawled over to the bodies of the dead and took
their water-bottles and "iron" rations, and so brought drink and food
to his stricken friends. Then at last he made his way through roving
shells to our lines and even then asked to lead the stretcher-bearers
who volunteered on a search-party for his "pals."

"Physical courage was very common in the war," said a friend of mine
who saw nothing of war. "It is proved that physical courage is the
commonest quality of mankind, as moral courage is the rarest." But
that soldier's courage was spiritual, and there were many like him in
the battles of the Somme and in other later battles as tragic as
those.




IX


I have told how, before "The Big Push," as we called the beginning of
these battles, little towns of tents were built under the sign of the
Red Cross. For a time they were inhabited only by medical officers,
nurses, and orderlies, busily getting ready for a sudden invasion, and
spending their surplus energy, which seemed inexhaustible, on the
decoration of their camps by chalk-lined paths, red crosses painted on
canvas or built up in red and white chalk on leveled earth, and
flowers planted outside the tents--all very pretty and picturesque in
the sunshine and the breezes over the valley of the Somme.

On the morning of battle the doctors, nurses, and orderlies waited for
their patients and said, "Now we shan't be long!" They were merry and
bright with that wonderful cheerfulness which enabled them to face the
tragedy of mangled manhood without horror, and almost, it seemed,
without pity, because it was their work, and they were there to heal
what might be healed. It was with a rush that their first cases came,
and the M.O.'s whistled and said, "Ye gods! how many more?" Many more.
The tide did not slacken. It became a spate brought down by waves of
ambulances. Three thousand wounded came to Daours on the Somme, three
thousand to Corbie, thousands to Dernancourt, Heilly, Puchevillers,
Toutencourt, and many other "clearing stations."

At Daours the tents were filled to overflowing, until there was no
more room. The wounded were laid down on the grass to wait their turn
for the surgeon's knife. Some of them crawled over to haycocks and
covered themselves with hay and went to sleep, as I saw them sleeping
there, like dead men. Here and there shell-shocked boys sat weeping or
moaning, and shaking with an ague. Most of the wounded were quiet and
did not give any groan or moan. The lightly wounded sat in groups,
telling their adventures, cursing the German machine-gunners. Young
officers spoke in a different way, and with that sporting spirit which
they had learned in public schools praised their enemy.

"The machine-gunners are wonderful fellows--topping. Fight until
they're killed. They gave us hell."

Each man among those thousands of wounded had escaped death a dozen
times or more by the merest flukes of luck. It was this luck of theirs
which they hugged with a kind of laughing excitement.

"It's a marvel I'm here! That shell burst all round me. Killed six of
my pals. I've got through with a blighty wound. No bones broken. . .
God! What luck!"

The death of other men did not grieve them. They could not waste this
sense of luck in pity. The escape of their own individuality, this
possession of life, was a glorious thought. They were alive! What
luck! What luck!

We called the hospital at Corbie the "Butcher's Shop." It was in a
pretty spot in that little town with a big church whose tall white
towers looked down a broad sweep of the Somme, so that for miles they
were a landmark behind the battlefields. Behind the lines during those
first battles, but later, in 1918, when the enemy came nearly to the
gates of Amiens, a stronghold of the Australians, who garrisoned it
and sniped pigeons for their pots off the top of the towers, and took
no great notice of "whizz-bangs" which broke through the roofs of
cottages and barns. It was a safe, snug place in July of '16, but that
Butcher's Shop at a corner of the square was not a pretty spot. After
a visit there I had to wipe cold sweat from my forehead, and found
myself trembling in a queer way. It was the medical officer--a
colonel--who called it that name. "This is our Butcher's Shop," he
said, cheerily. "Come and have a look at my cases. They're the worst
possible; stomach wounds, compound fractures, and all that. We lop off
limbs here all day long, and all night. You've no idea!"

I had no idea, but I did not wish to see its reality. The M.O. could
not understand my reluctance to see his show. He put it down to my
desire to save his time--and explained that he was going the rounds
and would take it as a favor if I would walk with him. I yielded
weakly, and cursed myself for not taking to flight. Yet, I argued,
what men are brave enough to suffer I ought to have the courage to
see. . . I saw and sickened.

These were the victims of "Victory" and the red fruit of war's
harvest-fields. A new batch of "cases" had just arrived. More were
being brought in on stretchers. They were laid down in rows on the
floor-boards. The colonel bent down to some of them and drew their
blankets back, and now and then felt a man's pulse. Most of them were
unconscious, breathing with the hard snuffle of dying men. Their skin
was already darkening to the death-tint, which is not white. They were
all plastered with a gray clay and this mud on their faces was, in
some cases, mixed with thick clots of blood, making a hard
incrustation from scalp to chin.

"That fellow won't last long," said the M. O., rising from a
stretcher. "Hardly a heart-beat left in him. Sure to die on the
operating-table if he gets as far as that. . . Step back against the
wall a minute, will you?"

We flattened ourselves against the passage wall while ambulance-men
brought in a line of stretchers. No sound came from most of those
bundles under the blankets, but from one came a long, agonizing wail,
the cry of an animal in torture.

"Come through the wards," said the colonel. "They're pretty bright,
though we could do with more space and light."

In one long, narrow room there were about thirty beds, and in each bed
lay a young British soldier, or part of a young British soldier. There
was not much left of one of them. Both his legs had been amputated to
the thigh, and both his arms to the shoulder-blades.

"Remarkable man, that," said the colonel. "Simply refuses to die. His
vitality is so tremendous that it is putting up a terrific fight
against mortality. . . There's another case of the same kind; one leg
gone and the other going, and one arm. Deliberate refusal to give in.
'You're not going to kill me, doctor,' he said. 'I'm going to stick it
through.' What spirit, eh?"

I spoke to that man. He was quite conscious, with bright eyes. His
right leg was uncovered, and supported on a board hung from the
ceiling. Its flesh was like that of a chicken badly carved-white,
flabby, and in tatters. He thought I was a surgeon, and spoke to me
pleadingly:

"I guess you can save that leg, sir. It's doing fine. I should hate to
lose it."

I murmured something about a chance for it, and the M. O. broke in
cheerfully.

"You won't lose it if I can help it. How's your pulse? Oh, not bad.
Keep cheerful and we'll pull you through." The man smiled gallantly.

"Bound to come off," said the doctor as we passed to another bed. "Gas
gangrene. That's the thing that does us down."

In bed after bed I saw men of ours, very young men, who had been
lopped of limbs a few hours ago or a few minutes, some of them
unconscious, some of them strangely and terribly conscious, with a
look in their eyes as though staring at the death which sat near to
them, and edged nearer.

"Yes," said the M. O., "they look bad, some of 'em, but youth is on
their side. I dare say seventy-five per cent. will get through. If it
wasn't for gas gangrene--"

He jerked his head to a boy sitting up in bed, smiling at the nurse
who felt his pulse.

"Looks fairly fit after the knife, doesn't he? But we shall have to
cut higher up. The gas again. I'm afraid he'll be dead before to-
morrow. Come into the operating-theater. It's very well equipped."

I refused that invitation. I walked stiffly out of the Butcher's Shop
of Corbie past the man who had lost both arms and both legs, that
vital trunk, past rows of men lying under blankets, past a stench of
mud and blood and anesthetics, to the fresh air of the gateway, where
a column of ambulances had just arrived with a new harvest from the
fields of the Somme.

"Come in again, any time!" shouted out the cheery colonel, waving his
hand.

I never went again, though I saw many other Butcher's Shops in the
years that followed, where there was a great carving of human flesh
which was of our boyhood, while the old men directed their sacrifice,
and the profiteers grew rich, and the fires of hate were stoked up at
patriotic banquets and in editorial chairs.




X


The failure on the left hardly balanced by the partial success on the
right caused a sudden pause in the operations, camouflaged by small
attacks on minor positions around and above Fricourt and Mametz. The
Lincolns and others went over to Fricourt Wood and routed out German
machine-gunners. The West Yorks attacked the sunken road at Fricourt.
The Dorsets, Manchesters, Highland Light Infantry, Lancashire
Fusiliers, and Borderers of the 32d Division were in possession of La
Boisselle and clearing out communication trenches to which the Germans
were hanging on with desperate valor. The 21st Division--
Northumberland Fusiliers, Durhams, Yorkshires-were making a flanking
attack on Contalmaison, but weakened after their heavy losses on the
first day of battle. The fighting for a time was local, in small
copses--Lozenge Wood, Peak Wood, Caterpillar Wood, Acid Drop Copse--
where English and German troops fought ferociously for yards of
ground, hummocks of earth, ditches.

G. H. Q. had been shocked by the disaster on the left and the failure
of all the big hopes they had held for a break-through on both sides
of the German positions. Rumors came to us that the Commander-in-Chief
had decided to restrict future operations to minor actions for
strengthening the line and to abandon the great offensive. It was
believed by officers I met that Sir Henry Rawlinson was arguing,
persuading, in favor of continued assaults on the grand scale.

Whatever division of opinion existed in the High Command I do not
know; it was visible to all of us that for some days there were
uncertainty of direction, hesitation, conflicting orders. On July 7th
the 17th Division, under General Pilcher, attacked Contalmaison, and a
whole battalion of the Prussian Guard hurried up from Valenciennes
and, thrown on to the battlefield without maps or guidance, walked
into the barrage which covered the advance of our men and were almost
annihilated. But although some bodies of our men entered Contalmaison,
in an attack which I was able to see, they were smashed out of it
again by storms of fire followed by masses of men who poured out from
Mametz Wood. The Welsh were attacking Mametz Wood.

They were handled, as Marbot said of his men in a Napoleonic battle,
"like turnips." Battalion commanders received orders in direct
conflict with one another. Bodies of Welshmen were advanced, and then
retired, and left to lie nakedly without cover, under dreadful fire.
The 17th Division, under General Pilcher, did not attack at the
expected time. There was no co-ordination of divisions; no knowledge
among battalion officers of the strategy or tactics of a battle in
which their men were involved.

"Goodness knows what's happening," said an officer I met near Mametz.
He had been waiting all night and half a day with a body of troops who
had expected to go forward, and were still hanging about under
harassing fire.

On July 9th Contalmaison was taken. I saw that attack very clearly, so
clearly that I could almost count the bricks in the old chateau set in
a little wood, and saw the left-hand tower knocked off by the direct
hit of a fifteen-inch shell. At four o'clock in the afternoon our guns
concentrated on the village, and under the cover of that fire our men
advanced on three sides of it, hemmed it in, and captured it with the
garrison of the 122d Bavarian Regiment, who had suffered the agonies
of hell inside its ruins. Now our men stayed in the ruins, and this
time German shells smashed into the chateau and the cottages and left
nothing but rubbish heaps of brick through which a few days later I
went walking with the smell of death in my nostrils. Our men were now
being shelled in that place.

Beyond La Boisselle, on the left of the Albert-Bapaume road, there had
been a village called Ovillers. It was no longer there. Our guns has
removed every trace of it, except as it lay in heaps of pounded brick.
The Germans had a network of trenches about it, and in their ditches
and their dugouts they fought like wolves. Our 12th Division was
ordered to drive them out--a division of English county troops,
including the Sussex, Essex, Bedfords, and Middlesex--and those
country boys of ours fought their way among communication trenches,
burrowed into tunnels, crouched below hummocks of earth and brick, and
with bombs and bayonets and broken rifles, and boulders of stone, and
German stick-bombs, and any weapon that would kill, gained yard by
yard over the dead bodies of the enemy, or by the capture of small
batches of cornered men, until after seventeen days of this one
hundred and forty men of the 3rd Prussian Guard, the last of their
garrison, without food or water, raised a signal of surrender, and
came out with their hands up. Ovillers was a shambles, in a fight of
primitive earth-men like human beasts. Yet our men were not beast-
like. They came out from those places--if they had the luck to come
out--apparently unchanged, without any mark of the beast on them, and
when they cleansed themselves of mud and filth, boiled the lice out of
their shirts, and assembled in a village street behind the lines, they
whistled, laughed, gossiped, as though nothing had happened to their
souls--though something had really happened, as now we know.

It was not until July 14th that our High Command ordered another
general attack after the local fighting which had been in progress
since the first day of battle. Our field-batteries, and some of our
"heavies," had moved forward to places like Montauban and
Contalmaison--where German shells came searching for them all day
long--and new divisions had been brought up to relieve some of the men
who had been fighting so hard and so long. It was to be an attack on
the second German line of defense on the ridges by the village of
Bazentin le Grand and Bazentin le Petit to Longueval on the right and
Delville Wood. I went up in the night to see the bombardment and the
beginning of the battle and the swirl of its backwash, and I remember
now the darkness of villages behind the lines through which our cars
crawled, until we reached the edge of the battlefields and saw the sky
rent by incessant flames of gun-fire, while red tongues of flames
leaped up from burning villages. Longueval was on fire, and the two
Bazentins, and another belt of land in France, so beautiful to see,
even as I had seen it first between the sand-bags of our parapets, was
being delivered to the charcoal-burners.

I have described that night scene elsewhere, in all its deviltry, but
one picture which I passed on the way to the battlefield could not
then be told. Yet it was significant of the mentality of our High
Command, as was afterward pointed out derisively by Sixte von Arnim.
It proved the strange unreasoning optimism which still lingered in the
breasts of old-fashioned generals in spite of what had happened on the
left on the first day of July, and their study of trench maps, and
their knowledge of German machine-guns. By an old mill-house called
the Moulin Vivier, outside the village of Meaulte, were masses of
cavalry--Indian cavalry and Dragoons--drawn up densely to leave a
narrow passageway for field-guns and horse-transport moving through
the village, which was in utter darkness. The Indians sat like statues
on their horses, motionless, dead silent. Now and again there was a
jangle of bits. Here and there a British soldier lit a cigarette and
for a second the little flame of his match revealed a bronzed face or
glinted on steel helmets.

Cavalry! . . . So even now there was a serious purpose behind the joke
of English soldiers who had gone forward on the first day, shouting,
"This way to the gap!" and in the conversation of some of those who
actually did ride through Bazentin that day.

A troop or two made their way over the cratered ground and skirted
Delville Wood; the Dragoon Guards charged a machine-gun in a
cornfield, and killed the gunners. Germans rounded up by them clung to
their stirrup leathers crying: "Pity! Pity!" The Indians lowered their
lances, but took prisoners to show their chivalry. But it was nothing
more than a beau geste. It was as futile and absurd as Don Quixote's
charge of the windmill. They were brought to a dead halt by the nature
of the ground and machine-gun fire which killed their horses, and lay
out that night with German shells searching for their bodies.

One of the most disappointed men in the army was on General Haldane's
staff. He was an old cavalry officer, and this major of the old, old
school (belonging in spirit to the time of Charles Lever) was excited
by the thought that there was to be a cavalry adventure. He was one of
those who swore that if he had his chance he would "ride into the
blue." It was the chance he wanted and he nursed his way to it by
delicate attentions to General Haldane. The general's bed was not so
comfortable as his. He changed places. He even went so far as to put a
bunch of flowers on the general's table in his dugout.

"You seem very attentive to me, major," said the general, smelling a
rat.

Then the major blurted out his desire. Could he lead a squadron round
Delville Wood? Could he take that ride into the blue? He would give
his soul to do it.

"Get on with your job," said General Haldane.

That ride into the blue did not encourage the cavalry to the belief
that they would be of real value in a warfare of trench lines and
barbed wire, but for a long time later they were kept moving backward
and forward between the edge of the battlefields and the back areas,
to the great incumbrance of the roads, until they were "guyed" by the
infantry, and irritable, so their officers told me, to the verge of
mutiny. Their irritability was cured by dismounting them for a turn in
the trenches, and I came across the Household Cavalry digging by the
Coniston Steps, this side of Thiepval, and cursing their spade-work.

In this book I will not tell again the narrative of that, fighting in
the summer and autumn of 1916, which I have written with many details
of each day's scene in my collected despatches called The Battles of
the Somme. There is little that I can add to those word-pictures which
I wrote day by day, after haunting experiences amid the ruin of those
fields, except a summing-up of their effect upon the mentality of our
men, and upon the Germans who were in the same "blood-bath," as they
called it, and a closer analysis of the direction and mechanism of our
military machine.

Looking back upon those battles in the light of knowledge gained in
the years that followed, it seems clear that our High Command was too
prodigal in its expenditure of life in small sectional battles, and
that the army corps and divisional staffs had not established an
efficient system of communication with the fighting units under their
control. It seemed to an outsider like myself that a number of
separate battles were being fought without reference to one another in
different parts of the field. It seemed as though our generals, after
conferring with one another over telephones, said, "All right, tell
So-and-so to have a go at Thiepval," or, "To-day we will send such-
and-such a division to capture Delville Wood," or, "We must get that
line of trenches outside Bazentin." Orders were drawn up on the basis
of that decision and passed down to brigades, who read them as their
sentence of death, and obeyed with or without protest, and sent three
or four battalions to assault a place which was covered by German
batteries round an arc of twenty miles, ready to open out a tempest of
fire directly a rocket rose from their infantry, and to tear up the
woods and earth in that neighborhood if our men gained ground. If the
whole battle-line moved forward the German fire would have been
dispersed, but in these separate attacks on places like Trones Wood
and Delville Wood, and later on High Wood, it was a vast concentration
of explosives which plowed up our men.

So it was that Delville Wood was captured and lost several times and
became "Devil's" Wood to men who lay there under the crash and fury of
massed gun-fire until a wretched remnant of what had been a glorious
brigade of youth crawled out stricken and bleeding when relieved by
another brigade ordered to take their turn in that devil's caldron, or
to recapture it when German bombing-parties and machine-gunners had
followed in the wake of fire, and had crouched again among the fallen
trees, and in the shell-craters and ditches, with our dead and their
dead to keep them company. In Delville Wood the South African Brigade
of the 9th Division was cut to pieces, and I saw the survivors come
out with few officers to lead them.

In Trones Wood, in Bernafay Wood, in Mametz Wood, there had been great
slaughter of English troops and Welsh. The 18th Division and the 38th
suffered horribly. In Delville Wood many battalions were slashed to
pieces before these South Africans. And after that came High Wood . .
. All that was left of High Wood in the autumn of 1916 was a thin row
of branchless trees, but in July and August there were still glades
under heavy foliage, until the branches were lopped off and the leaves
scattered by our incessant fire. It was an important position, vital
for the enemy's defense, and our attack on the right flank of the
Pozieres Ridge, above Bazentin and Delville Wood, giving on the
reverse slope a fine observation of the enemy's lines above
Martinpuich and Courcellette away to Bapaume. For that reason the
Germans were ordered to hold it at all costs, and many German
batteries had registered on it to blast our men out if they gained a
foothold on our side of the slope or theirs.

So High Wood became another hell, on a day of great battle--September
14, 1916--when for the first time tanks were used, demoralizing the
enemy in certain places, though they were too few in number to strike
a paralyzing blow. The Londoners gained part of High Wood at frightful
cost and then were blown out of it. Other divisions followed them and
found the wood stuffed with machine-guns which they had to capture
through hurricanes of bullets before they crouched in craters amid
dead Germans and dead English, and then were blown out like the
Londoners, under shell-fire, in which no human life could stay for
long.

The 7th Division was cut up there. The 33d Division lost six thousand
men in an advance against uncut wire in the wood, which they were told
was already captured.

Hundreds of men were vomiting from the effect of gas-shells, choking
and blinded. Behind, the transport wagons and horses were smashed to
bits.

The divisional staffs were often ignorant of what was happening to the
fighting-men when the attack was launched. Light signals, rockets,
heliographing, were of small avail through the dust--and smoke-clouds.
Forward observing officers crouching behind parapets, as I often saw
them, and sometimes stood with them, watched fires burning, red
rockets and green, gusts of flame, and bursting shells, and were
doubtful what to make of it all. Telephone wires trailed across the
ground for miles, were cut into short lengths by shrapnel and high
explosive. Accidents happened as part of the inevitable blunders of
war. It was all a vast tangle and complexity of strife.

On July 17th I stood in a tent by a staff-officer who was directing a
group of heavy guns supporting the 3d Division. He was tired, as I
could see by the black lines under his eyes and tightly drawn lips. On
a camp-table in front of him, upon which he leaned his elbows, there
was a telephone apparatus, and the little bell kept ringing as we
talked. Now and then a shell burst in the field outside the tent, and
he raised his head and said: "They keep crumping about here. Hope they
won't tear this tent to ribbons. . . .That sounds like a gas-shell."

Then he turned to the telephone again and listened to some voice
speaking.

"Yes, I can hear you. Yes, go on. 'Our men seen leaving High Wood.'
Yes. 'Shelled by our artillery.' Are you sure of that? I say, are you
sure they were our men? Another message. Well, carry on. 'Men digging
on road from High Wood southeast to Longueval.' Yes, I've got that.
'They are our men and not Boches.' Oh, hell! . . . Get off the line.
Get off the line, can't you? . . . 'Our men and not Boches.' Yes, I
have that. 'Heavily shelled by our guns.' "

The staff-officer tapped on the table with a lead-pencil a tattoo,
while his forehead puckered. Then he spoke into the telephone again.

"Are you there, 'Heavies'? . . . Well, don't disturb those fellows for
half an hour. After that I will give you new orders. Try and confirm
if they are our men."

He rang off and turned to me.

"That's the trouble. Looks as if we had been pounding our own men like
hell. Some damn fool reports 'Boches.' Gives the reference number.
Asks for the 'Heavies'. Then some other fellow says: 'Not Boches. For
God's sake cease fire!' How is one to tell?"

I could not answer that question, but I hated the idea of our men sent
forward to capture a road or a trench or a wood and then "pounded" by
our guns. They had enough pounding from the enemy's guns. There seemed
a missing link in the system somewhere. Probably it was quite
inevitable.

Over and over again the wounded swore to God that they had been
shelled by our own guns. The Londoners said so from High Wood. The
Australians said so from Mouquet Farm. The Scots said so from
Longueval! They said: "Why the hell do we get murdered by British
gunners? What's the good of fighting if we're slaughtered by our own
side?"

In some cases they were mistaken. It was enfilade fire from German
batteries. But often it happened according to the way of that
telephone conversation in the tent by Bronfay Farm.

The difference between British soldiers and German soldiers crawling
over shell-craters or crouching below the banks of a sunken road was
no more than the difference between two tribes of ants. Our flying
scouts, however low they flew, risking the Archies and machine-gun
bullets, often mistook khaki for field gray, and came back with false
reports which led to tragedy.




XI


People who read my war despatches will remember my first descriptions
of the tanks and those of other correspondents. They caused a
sensation, a sense of excitement, laughter which shook the nation
because of the comicality, the grotesque surprise, the possibility of
quicker victory, which caught hold of the imagination of people who
heard for the first time of those new engines of war, so beast-like in
appearance and performance. The vagueness of our descriptions was due
to the censorship, which forbade, wisely enough, any technical and
exact definition, so that we had to compare them to giant toads,
mammoths, and prehistoric animals of all kinds. Our accounts did,
however, reproduce the psychological effect of the tanks upon the
British troops when these engines appeared for the first time to their
astonished gaze on September 13th. Our soldiers roared with laughter,
as I did, when they saw them lolloping up the roads. On the morning of
the great battle of September 15th the presence of the tanks going
into action excited all the troops along the front with a sense of
comical relief in the midst of the grim and deadly business of attack.
Men followed them, laughing and cheering. There was a wonderful thrill
in the airman's message, "Tank walking up the High Street of Flers
with the British army cheering behind." Wounded boys whom I met that
morning grinned in spite of their wounds at our first word about the
tanks. "Crikey!" said a cockney lad of the 47th Division. "I can't
help laughing every time I think of them tanks. I saw them stamping
down German machine-guns as though they were wasps' nests." The
adventures of Creme de Menthe, Cordon Rouge, and the Byng Boys, on
both sides of the Bapaume road, when they smashed down barbed wire,
climbed over trenches, sat on German redoubts, and received the
surrender of German prisoners who held their hands up to these
monsters and cried, "Kamerad!" were like fairy-tales of war by H. G.
Wells.

Yet their romance had a sharp edge of reality as I saw in those
battles of the Somme, and afterward, more grievously, in the Cambrai
salient and Flanders, when the tanks were put out of action by direct
hits of field-guns and nothing of humankind remained in them but the
charred bones of their gallant crews.

Before the battle in September of '16 I talked with the pilots of the
first tanks, and although they were convinced of the value of these
new engines of war and were out to prove it, they did not disguise
from me nor from their own souls that they were going forth upon a
perilous adventure with the odds of luck against them. I remember one
young pilot--a tiny fellow like a jockey, who took me on one side and
said, "I want you to do me a favor," and then scribbled down his
mother's address and asked me to write to her if "anything" happened
to him.

He and other tank officers were anxious. They had not complete
confidence in the steering and control of their engines. It was a
difficult and clumsy kind of gear, which was apt to break down at a
critical moment, as I saw when I rode in one on their field of
maneuver. These first tanks were only experimental, and the tail
arrangement was very weak. Worse than all mechanical troubles was the
short-sighted policy of some authority at G.H.Q., who had insisted
upon A.S.C. drivers being put to this job a few days before the
battle, without proper training.

"It is mad and murderous," said one of the officers, "These fellows
may have pluck, all right--I don't doubt it--but they don't know their
engines, nor the double steering trick, and they have never been under
shell-fire. It is asking for trouble."

As it turned out, the A.S.C. drivers proved their pluck, for the most
part, splendidly, but many tanks broke down before they reached the
enemy's lines, and in that action and later battles there were times
when they bitterly disappointed the infantry commanders and the
troops.

Individual tanks, commanded by gallant young officers and served by
brave crews, did astounding feats, and some of these men came back
dazed and deaf and dumb, after forty hours or more of fighting and
maneuvering within steel walls, intensely hot, filled with the fumes
of their engines, jolted and banged about over rough ground, and
steering an uncertain course, after the loss of their "tails," which
had snapped at the spine. But there had not been anything like enough
tanks to secure an annihilating surprise over the enemy as afterward
was attained in the first battle of Cambrai; and the troops who had
been buoyed up with the hope that at last the machine--gun evil was
going to be scotched were disillusioned and dejected when they saw
tanks ditched behind the lines or nowhere in sight when once again
they had to trudge forward under the flail of machine-gun bullets from
earthwork redoubts. It was a failure in generalship to give away our
secret before it could be made effective.

I remember sitting in a mess of the Gordons in the village of
Franvillers along the Albert road, and listening to a long monologue
by a Gordon officer on the future of the tanks. He was a dreamer and
visionary, and his fellow-officers laughed at him.

"A few tanks are no good," he said. "Forty or fifty tanks are no good
on a modern battle-front. We want hundreds of tanks, brought up
secretly, fed with ammunition by tank carriers, bringing up field-guns
and going into action without any preliminary barrage. They can smash
through the enemy's wire and get over his trenches before he is aware
that an attack has been organized. Up to now all our offensives have
been futile because of our preliminary advertisement by prolonged
bombardment. The tanks can bring back surprise to modern warfare, but
we must have hundreds of them."

Prolonged laughter greeted this speech. But the Celtic dreamer did not
smile. He was staring into the future. . . And what he saw was true,
though he did not live to see it, for in the Cambrai battle of
November 11th the tanks did advance in hundreds, and gained an
enormous surprise over the enemy, and led the way to a striking
victory, which turned to tragedy because of risks too lightly taken.




XII


One branch of our military machine developed with astonishing rapidity
and skill during those Somme battles. The young gentlemen of the Air
Force went "all out" for victory, and were reckless in audacity. How
far they acted under orders and against their own judgment of what was
sensible and sound in fighting-risks I do not know. General Trenchard,
their supreme chief, believed in an aggressive policy at all costs,
and was a Napoleon in this war of the skies, intolerant of timidity,
not squeamish of heavy losses if the balance were tipped against the
enemy. Some young flying-men complained to me bitterly that they were
expected to fly or die over the German lines, whatever the weather or
whatever the risks. Many of them, after repeated escapes from anti-
aircraft shells and hostile craft, lost their nerve, shirked another
journey, found themselves crying in their tents, and were sent back
home for a spell by squadron commanders, with quick observation for
the breaking-point; or made a few more flights and fell to earth like
broken birds.

Sooner or later, apart from rare cases, every man was found to lose
his nerve, unless he lost his life first. That was a physical and
mental law. But until that time these flying-men were the knights-
errant of the war, and most of them did not need any driving to the
risks they took with boyish recklessness.

They were mostly boys--babes, as they seemed to me, when I saw them in
their tents or dismounting from their machines. On "dud" days, when
there was no visibility at all, they spent their leisure hours joy-
riding to Amiens or some other town where they could have a "binge."
They drank many cocktails and roared with laughter over, bottles of
cheap champagne, and flirted with any girl who happened to come within
their orbit. If not allowed beyond their tents, they sulked like baby
Achilles, reading novelettes, with their knees hunched up, playing the
gramophone, and ragging each other.

There was one child so young that his squadron leader would not let
him go out across the battle-lines to challenge any German scout in
the clouds or do any of the fancy "stunts" that were part of the next
day's program. He went to bed sulkily, and then came back again, in
his pajamas, with rumpled hair.

"Look here, sir," he said. "Can't I go? I've got my wings. It's
perfectly rotten being left behind."

The squadron commander, who told me of the tale, yielded.

"All right. Only don't do any fool tricks."

Next morning the boy flew off, played a lone hand, chased a German
scout, dropped low over the enemy's lines, machine-gunned infantry on
the march, scattered them, bombed a train, chased a German motor-car,
and after many adventures came back alive and said, "I've had a rare
old time!"

On a stormy day, which loosened the tent poles and slapped the wet
canvas, I sat in a mess with a group of flying-officers, drinking tea
out of a tin mug. One boy, the youngest of them, had just brought down
his first "Hun." He told me the tale of it with many details, his eyes
alight as he described the fight. They had maneuvered round each other
for a long time. Then he shot his man en passant. The machine crashed
on our side of the lines. He had taken off the iron crosses on the
wings, and a bit of the propeller, as mementoes. He showed me these
things (while the squadron commander, who had brought down twenty-four
Germans, winked at me) and told me he was going to send them home to
hang beside his college trophies . . . I guessed he was less than
nineteen years old. Such a kid! . . . A few days later, when I went to
the tent again, I asked about him. "How's that boy who brought down
his first 'Hun'?" The squadron commander said:

"Didn't you hear? He's gone west. Brought down in a dog-fight. He had
a chance of escape, but went back to rescue a pal . . . a nice boy."

They became fatalists after a few fights, and believed in their luck,
or their mascots--teddy-bears, a bullet that had missed them, china
dolls, a girl's lock of hair, a silver ring. Yet at the back of their
brains, most Of them, I fancy, knew that it was only a question of
time before they "went west," and with that subconscious thought they
crowded in all life intensely in the hours that were given to them,
seized all chance of laughter, of wine, of every kind of pleasure
within reach, and said their prayers (some of them) with great fervor,
between one escape and another, like young Paul Bensher, who has
revealed his soul in verse, his secret terror, his tears, his hatred
of death, his love of life, when he went bombing over Bruges.

On the mornings of the battles of the Somme I saw them as the heralds
of a new day of strife flying toward the lines in the first light of
dawn. When the sun rose its rays touched their wings, made them white
like cabbage butterflies, or changed them to silver, all a sparkle. I
saw them fly over the German positions, not changing their course.
Then all about them burst black puffs of German shrapnel, so that many
times I held my breath because they seemed in the center of the burst.
But generally when the cloud cleared they were flying again, until
they disappeared in the mists over the enemy's country. There they did
deadly work, in single fights with German airmen, or against great
odds, until they had an air space to themselves and skimmed the earth
like albatrosses in low flight, attacking machine-gun nests, killing
or scattering the gunners by a burst of bullets from their Lewis guns,
dropping bombs on German wagon transports, infantry, railway trains
(one man cut a train in half and saw men and horses falling out), and
ammunition--dumps, directing the fire of our guns upon living targets,
photographing new trenches and works, bombing villages crowded with
German troops. That they struck terror into these German troops was
proved afterward when we went into Bapaume and Peronne and many
villages from which the enemy retreated after the battles of the
Somme. Everywhere there were signboards on which was written "Flieger
Schutz!" (aircraft shelter) or German warnings of: "Keep to the
sidewalks. This road is constantly bombed by British airmen."

They were a new plague of war, and did for a time gain a complete
mastery of the air. But later the Germans learned the lesson of low
flying and night bombing, and in 1917 and 1918 came back in greater
strength and made the nights horrible in camps behind the lines and in
villages, where they killed many soldiers and more civilians.

The infantry did not believe much in our air supremacy at any time,
not knowing what work was done beyond their range of vision, and
seeing our machines crashed in No Man's Land, and hearing the rattle
of machine-guns from hostile aircraft above their own trenches.

"Those aviators of ours," a general said to me, "are the biggest liars
in the world. Cocky fellows claiming impossible achievements. What
proof can they give of their preposterous tales? They only go into the
air service because they haven't the pluck to serve in the infantry."

That was prejudice. The German losses were proof enough of our men's
fighting skill and strength, and German prisoners and German letters
confirmed all their claims. But we were dishonest in our reckoning
from first to last, and the British public was hoodwinked about our
losses. "Three of our machines are missing." "Six of our machines are
missing." Yes, but what about the machines which crashed in No Man's
Land and behind our lines? They were not missing, but destroyed, and
the boys who had flown in them were dead or broken.

To the end of the war those aviators of ours searched the air for
their adventures, fought often against overwhelming numbers, killed
the German champions in single combat or in tourneys in the sky, and
let down tons of high explosives which caused great death and
widespread destruction; and in this work they died like flies, and one
boy's life--one of those laughing, fatalistic, intensely living boys--
was of no more account in the general sum of slaughter than a summer
midge, except as one little unit in the Armies of the Air.




XIII


I am not strong enough in the science of psychology to understand the
origin of laughter and to get into touch with the mainsprings of
gaiety. The sharp contrast between normal ethics and an abnormality of
action provides a grotesque point of view arousing ironical mirth. It
is probable also that surroundings of enormous tragedy stimulate the
sense of humor of the individual, so that any small, ridiculous thing
assumes the proportion of monstrous absurdity. It is also likely--
certain, I think--that laughter is an escape from terror, a liberation
of the soul by mental explosion, from the prison walls of despair and
brooding. In the Decameron of Boccaccio a group of men and women
encompassed by plague retired into seclusion to tell one another
mirthful immoralities which stirred their laughter. They laughed while
the plague destroyed society around them and when they knew that its
foul germs were on the prowl for their own bodies . . . So it was in
this war, where in many strange places and in many dreadful days there
was great laughter. I think sometimes of a night I spent with the
medical officers of a tent hospital in the fields of the Somme during
those battles. With me as a guest went a modern Falstaff, a "ton of
flesh," who "sweats to death and lards the lean earth as he walks
along."

He was a man of many anecdotes, drawn from the sinks and stews of
life, yet with a sense of beauty lurking under his coarseness, and a
voice of fine, sonorous tone, which he managed with art and a melting
grace.

On the way to the field hospital he had taken more than one nip of
whisky. His voice was well oiled when he sang a greeting to a medical
major in a florid burst of melody from Italian opera. The major was a
little Irish medico who had been through the South African War and in
tropical places, where he had drunk fire-water to kill all manner of
microbes. He suffered abominably from asthma and had had a heart-
seizure the day before our dinner at his mess, and told us that he
would drop down dead as sure as fate between one operation and another
on "the poor, bloody wounded" who never ceased to flow into his tent.
But he was in a laughing mood, and thirsty for laughter-making liquid.
He had two whiskies before the dinner began to wet his whistle. His
fellow-officers were out for an evening's joy, but nervous of the
colonel, an austere soul who sat at the head of the mess with the look
of a man afraid that merriment might reach outrageous heights beyond
his control. A courteous man he was, and rather sad. His presence for
a time acted as a restraint upon the company, until all restraint was
broken by the Falstaff with me, who told soul-crashing stories to the
little Irish major across the table and sang love lyrics to the
orderly who brought round the cottage pie and pickles. There was a
tall, thin young surgeon who had been carving up living bodies all day
and many days, and now listened to that fat rogue with an intensity of
delight that lit up his melancholy eyes, watching him gravely between
gusts of deep laughter, which seemed to come from his boots. There was
another young surgeon, once of Barts', who made himself the cup-server
of the fat knight and kept his wine at the brim, and encouraged him to
fresh audacities of anecdotry, with a humorous glance at the colonel's
troubled face . . . The colonel was forgotten after dinner. The little
Irish major took the lid off the boiling pot of mirth. He was entirely
mad, as he assured us, between dances of a wild and primitive type,
stories of adventure in far lands, and spasms of asthmatic coughing,
when he beat his breast and said, "A pox in my bleeding heart!"

Falstaff was playing Juliet to the Romeo of the tall young surgeon,
singing falsetto like a fat German angel dressed in loose-fitting
khaki, with his belt undone. There were charades in the tent. The boy
from Barts' did remarkable imitations of a gamecock challenging a
rival bird, of a cow coming through a gate, of a general addressing
his troops (most comical of all). Several glasses were broken. The
corkscrew was disregarded as a useless implement, and whisky-bottles
were decapitated against the tent poles. I remember vaguely the
crowning episode of the evening when the little major was dancing the
Irish jig with a kitchen chair; when Falstaff was singing the Prologue
of Pagliacci to the stupefied colonel; when the boy, once of Barts',
was roaring like a lion under the mess table, and when the tall,
melancholy surgeon was at the top of the tent pole, scratching himself
like a gorilla in his native haunts. . . Outside, the field hospital
was quiet, under a fleecy sky with a crescent moon. Through the
painted canvas of the tent city candle-light glowed with a faint rose-
colored light, and the Red Cross hung limp above the camp where many
wounded lay, waking or sleeping, tossing in agony, dying in
unconsciousness. Far away over the fields, rockets were rising above
the battle-lines. The sky was flickering with the flush of gun-fire. A
red glare rose and spread below the clouds where some ammunition-dump
had been exploded . . . Old Falstaff fell asleep in the car on the way
back to our quarters, and I smiled at the memory of great laughter in
the midst of tragedy.




XIV


The struggle of men from one low ridge to another low ridge in a
territory forty miles wide by more than twenty miles deep, during five
months of fighting, was enormous in its intensity and prolongation of
slaughter, wounding, and endurance of all hardships and terrors of
war. As an eye-witness I saw the full scope of the bloody drama. I saw
day by day the tidal waves of wounded limping back, until two hundred
and fifty thousand men had passed through our casualty clearing
stations, and then were not finished. I went among these men when the
blood was wet on them, and talked with hundreds of them, and heard
their individual narratives of escapes from death until my imagination
was saturated with the spirit of their conflict of body and soul. I
saw a green, downy countryside, beautiful in its summer life, ravaged
by gun-fire so that the white chalk of its subsoil was flung above the
earth and grass in a wide, sterile stretch of desolation pitted with
shell-craters, ditched by deep trenches, whose walls were hideously
upheaved by explosive fire, and littered yard after yard, mile after
mile, with broken wire, rifles, bombs, unexploded shells, rags of
uniform, dead bodies, or bits of bodies, and all the filth of battle.
I saw many villages flung into ruin or blown clean off the map. I
walked into such villages as Contalmaison, Martinpuich, Le Sars,
Thilloy, and at last Bapaume, when a smell of burning and the fumes of
explosives and the stench of dead flesh rose up to one's nostrils and
one's very soul, when our dead and German dead lay about, and newly
wounded came walking through the ruins or were carried shoulder high
on stretchers, and consciously and subconsciously the living,
unwounded men who went through these places knew that death lurked
about them and around them and above them, and at any second might
make its pounce upon their own flesh. I saw our men going into battle
with strong battalions and coming out of it with weak battalions. I
saw them in the midst of battle at Thiepval, at Contalmaison, at
Guillemont, by Loupart Wood, when they trudged toward lines of German
trenches, bunching a little in groups, dodging shell-bursts, falling
in single figures or in batches, and fighting over the enemy's
parapets. I sat with them in their dugouts before battle and after
battle, saw their bodies gathered up for burial, heard their snuffle
of death in hospital, sat by their bedside when they were sorely
wounded. So the full tragic drama of that long conflict on the Somme
was burned into my brain and I was, as it were, a part of it, and I am
still seared with its remembrance, and shall always be.

But however deep the knowledge of tragedy, a man would be a liar if he
refused to admit the heroism, the gallantry of youth, even the gaiety
of men in these infernal months. Psychology on the Somme was not
simple and straightforward. Men were afraid, but fear was not their
dominating emotion, except in the worst hours. Men hated this
fighting, but found excitement in it, often exultation, sometimes an
intense stimulus of all their senses and passions before reaction and
exhaustion. Men became jibbering idiots with shell-shock, as I saw
some of them, but others rejoiced when they saw our shells plowing
into the enemy's earthworks, laughed at their own narrow escapes and
at grotesque comicalities of this monstrous deviltry. The officers
were proud of their men, eager for their honor and achievement. The
men themselves were in rivalry with other bodies of troops, and proud
of their own prowess. They were scornful of all that the enemy might
do to them, yet acknowledged his courage and power. They were quick to
kill him, yet quick also to give him a chance of life by surrender,
and after that were--nine times out of ten--chivalrous and kindly, but
incredibly brutal on the rare occasions when passion overcame them at
some tale of treachery. They had the pride of the skilled laborer in
his own craft, as machine-gunners, bombers, raiders, trench-mortar--
men, and were keen to show their skill, whatever the risks. They were
healthy animals, with animal courage as well as animal fear, and they
had, some of them, a spiritual and moral fervor which bade them risk
death to save a comrade, or to save a position, or to kill the fear
that tried to fetter them, or to lead men with greater fear than
theirs. They lived from hour to hour and forgot the peril or the
misery that had passed, and did not forestall the future by
apprehension unless they were of sensitive mind, with the worst
quality men might have in modern warfare--imagination.

They trained themselves to an intense egotism within narrow
boundaries. Fifty yards to the left, or five hundred, men were being
pounded to death by shell-fire. Fifty yards to the right, or five
hundred, men were being mowed down by machine-gun fire. For the time
being their particular patch was quiet. It was their luck. Why worry
about the other fellow? The length of a traverse in a ditch called a
trench might make all the difference between heaven and hell. Dead
bodies were being piled up on one side of the traverse. A shell had
smashed into the platoon next door. There was a nasty mess. Men sat
under their own mud-bank and scooped out a tin of bully beef and hoped
nothing would scoop them out of their bit of earth. This protective
egotism seemed to me the instinctive soul-armor of men in dangerous
places when I saw them in the line. In a little way, not as a soldier,
but as a correspondent, taking only a thousandth part of the risks of
fighting-men, I found myself using this self-complacency. They were
strafing on the left. Shells were pitching on the right. Very nasty
for the men in either of those places. Poor devils! But meanwhile I
was on a safe patch, it seemed. Thank Heaven for that!

"Here," said an elderly officer--one of those rare exalted souls who
thought that death was a little thing to give for one's country's
sake--"here we may be killed at any moment!"

He spoke the words in Contalmaison with a glow in his voice, as though
announcing glad tidings to a friend who was a war artist camouflaged
as a lieutenant and new to the scene of battle.

"But," said the soldier-artist, adjusting his steel hat nervously, "I
don't want to be killed! I hate the idea of it!"

He was the normal man. The elderly officer was abnormal. The normal
man, soldier without camouflage, had no use for death at all, unless
it was in connection with the fellow on the opposite side of the way.
He hated the notion of it applied to himself. He fought ferociously,
desperately, heroically, to escape it. Yet there were times, many
times, when he paid not the slightest attention to the near
neighborhood of that grisly specter, because in immediate, temporary
tranquillity he thrust the thought from his mind, and smoked a
cigarette, and exchanged a joke with the fellow at his elbow. There
were other times when, in a state of mental exaltation, or spiritual
self-sacrifice, or physical excitement, he acted regardless of all
risks and did mad, marvelous, almost miraculous things, hardly
conscious of his own acts, but impelled to do as he did by the passion
within him--passion of love, passion of hate, passion of fear, or
passion of pride. Those men, moved like that, were the leaders, the
heroes, and groups followed them sometimes because of their intensity
of purpose and the infection of their emotion, and the comfort that
came from their real or apparent self-confidence in frightful
situations. Those who got through were astonished at their own
courage. Many of them became convinced consciously or subconsciously
that they were immune from shells and bullets. They walked through
harassing fire with a queer sense of carelessness. They had escaped so
often that some of them had a kind of disdain of shell-bursts, until,
perhaps, one day something snapped in their nervous system, as often
it did, and the bang of a door in a billet behind the lines, or a
wreath of smoke from some domestic chimney, gave them a sudden shock
of fear. Men differed wonderfully in their nerve-resistance, and it
was no question of difference in courage.

In the mass all our soldiers seemed equally brave. In the mass they
seemed astoundingly cheerful. In spite of all the abomination of that
Somme fighting our troops before battle and after battle--a few days
after--looked bright-eyed, free from haunting anxieties, and were easy
in their way of laughter. It was optimism in the mass, heroism in the
mass. It was only when one spoke to the individual, some friend who
bared his soul a second, or some soldier-ant in the multitude, with
whom one talked with truth, that one saw the hatred of a man for his
job, the sense of doom upon him, the weakness that was in his
strength, the bitterness of his grudge against a fate that forced him
to go on in this way of life, the remembrance of a life more beautiful
which he had abandoned--all mingled with those other qualities of
pride and comradeship, and that illogical sense of humor which made up
the strange complexity of his psychology.




XV


It was a colonel of the North Staffordshires who revealed to me the
astounding belief that he was "immune" from shell-fire, and I met
other men afterward with the same conviction. He had just come out of
desperate fighting in the neighborhood of Thiepval, where his
battalion had suffered heavily, and at first he was rude and sullen in
the hut. I gaged him as a hard Northerner, without a shred of
sentiment or the flicker of any imaginative light; a stern, ruthless
man. He was bitter in his speech to me because the North Staffords
were never mentioned in my despatches. He believed that this was due
to some personal spite--not knowing the injustice of our military
censorship under the orders of G.H.Q.

"Why the hell don't we get a word?" he asked. "Haven't we done as well
as anybody, died as much?"

I promised to do what I could--which was nothing--to put the matter
right, and presently he softened, and, later was amazingly candid in
self-revelation.

"I have a mystical power," he said. "Nothing will ever hit me as long
as I keep that power which comes from faith. It is a question of
absolute belief in the domination of mind over matter. I go through
any barrage unscathed because my will is strong enough to turn aside
explosive shells and machine-gun bullets. As matter they must obey my
intelligence. They are powerless to resist the mind of a man in touch
with the Universal Spirit, as I am."

He spoke quietly and soberly, in a matter-of-fact way. I decided that
he was mad. That was not surprising. We were all mad, in one way or
another or at one time or another. It was the unusual form of madness
that astonished me. I envied him his particular "kink." I wished I
could cultivate it, as an aid to courage. He claimed another peculiar
form of knowledge. He knew before each action, he told me, what
officers and men of his would be killed in battle. He looked at a
man's eyes and knew, and he claimed that he never made a mistake . . .
He was sorry to possess that second sight, and it worried him.

There were many men who had a conviction that they would not be
killed, although they did not state it in the terms expressed by the
colonel of the North Staffordshires, and it is curious that in some
cases I know they were not mistaken and are still alive. It was indeed
a general belief that if a man funked being hit he was sure to fall,
that being the reverse side of the argument.

I saw the serene cheerfulness of men in the places of death at many
times and in many places, and I remember one group of friends on the
Somme who revealed that quality to a high degree. It was when our
front-line ran just outside the village of Martinpuich to Courcelette,
on the other side of the Bapaume road, and when the 8th-l0th Gordons
were there, after their fight through Longueval and over the ridge. It
was the little crowd I have mentioned before in the battle of Loos,
and it was Lieut. John Wood who took me to the battalion headquarters
located under some sand-bags in a German dug--out. All the way up to
Contalmaison and beyond there were the signs of recent bloodshed and
of present peril. Dead horses lay about, disemboweled by shell-fire.
Legs and arms protruded from shell-craters where bodies lay half
buried. Heavy crumps came howling through the sky and bursting with
enormous noise here, there, and everywhere over that vast, desolate
battlefield, with its clumps of ruin and rows of dead trees. It was
the devil's hunting-ground and I hated every yard of it. But John
Wood, who lived in it, was astoundingly cheerful, and a fine, sturdy,
gallant figure, in his kilted dress, as he climbed over sand-bags,
walked on the top of communication trenches (not bothering to take
cover) and skirting round hedges of barbed wire, apparently
unconscious of the "crumps" that were bursting around. I found
laughter and friendly greeting in a hole in the earth where the
battalion staff was crowded. The colonel was courteous, but busy. He
rather deprecated the notion that I should go up farther, to the
ultimate limit of our line. It was no use putting one's head into
trouble without reasonable purpose, and the German guns had been
blowing in sections of his new-made trenches. But John Wood was
insistent that I should meet "old Thom," afterward in command of the
battalion. He had just been buried and dug out again. He would like to
see me. So we left the cover of the dugout and took to the open again.
Long lines of Jocks were digging a support trench--digging with a kind
of rhythmic movement as they threw up the earth with their shovels.
Behind them was another line of Jocks, not working. They lay as though
asleep, out in the open. They were the dead of the last advance.
Captain Thom was leaning up against the wall of the front-line trench,
smoking a cigarette, with his steel hat on the back of his head--a
handsome, laughing figure. He did not look like a man who had just
been buried and dug out again.

"It was a narrow shave," he said. "A beastly shell covered me with a
ton of earth . . .  Have a cigarette, won't you?"

We gossiped as though in St. James's Street. Other young Scottish
officers came up and shook hands, and said: "Jolly weather, isn't it?
What do you think of our little show?" Not one of them gave a glance
at the line of dead men over there, behind their parados. They told me
some of the funny things that had happened lately in the battalion,
some grim jokes by tough Jocks. They had a fine crowd of men. You
couldn't beat them. "Well, good morning! Must get on with the job."
There was no anguish there, no sense of despair, no sullen hatred of
this life, so near to death. They seemed to like it. . . They did not
really like it. They only made the best of it, without gloom. I saw
they did not like this job of battle, one evening in their mess behind
the line. The colonel who commanded them at the time, Celt of the
Celts, was in a queer mood. He was a queer man, aloof in his manner, a
little "fey." He was annoyed with three of his officers who had come
back late from three days' Paris leave. They were giants, but stood
like schoolboys before their master while he spoke ironical, bitter
words. Later in the evening he mentioned casually that they must
prepare to go into the line again under special orders. What about the
store of bombs, small-arms ammunition, machine-guns?

The officers were stricken into silence. They stared at one another as
though to say: "What does the old man mean? Is this true?" One of them
became rather pale, and there was a look of tragic resignation in his
eyes. Another said, "Hell!" in a whisper. The adjutant answered the
colonel's questions in a formal way, but thinking hard and studying
the colonel's face anxiously.

"Do you mean to say we are going into the line again, sir? At once?"

The colonel laughed.

"Don't look so scared, all of you! It's only a field-day for
training."

The officers of the Gordons breathed more freely. Poof! They had been
fairly taken in by the "old man's" leg-pulling . . . No, it was clear
they did not find any real joy in the line. They would not choose a
front-line trench as the most desirable place of residence.




XVI


In queer psychology there was a strange mingling of the pitiful and
comic--among a division (the 35th) known as the Bantams. They were all
volunteers, having been rejected by the ordinary recruiting-officer on
account of their diminutive stature, which was on an average five feet
high, descending to four feet six. Most of them came from Lancashire,
Cheshire, Durham, and Glasgow, being the dwarfed children of
industrial England and its mid-Victorian cruelties. Others were from
London, banded together in a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. They
gave a shock to our French friends when they arrived as a division at
the port of Boulogne.

"Name of a dog!" said the quayside loungers. "England is truly in a
bad way. She is sending out her last reserves!"

"But they are the soldiers of Lilliput!" exclaimed others.

"It is terrible that they should send these little ones," said kind-
hearted fishwives.

Under the training of General Pi, who commanded them, they became
smart and brisk in the ranks. They saluted like miniature Guardsmen,
marched with quick little steps like clockwork soldiers. It was
comical to see them strutting up and down as sentries outside
divisional headquarters, with their bayonets high above their wee
bodies. In trench warfare they did well--though the fire-step had to
be raised to let them see over the top--and in one raid captured a
German machine-gun which I saw in their hands, and hauled it back (a
heavier weight than ours) like ants struggling with a stick of straw.
In actual battle they were hardly strong enough and could not carry
all that burden of fighting-kit--steel helmet, rifle, hand-grenades,
shovels, empty sand-bags--with which other troops went into action. So
they were used as support troops mostly, behind the Black Watch and
other battalions near Bazentin and Longueval, and there these poor
little men dug and dug like beavers and crouched in the cover they
made under damnable fire, until many of them were blown to bits. There
was no "glory" in their job, only filth and blood, but they held the
ground and suffered it all, not gladly. They had a chance of taking
prisoners at Longueval, where they rummaged in German dugouts after
the line had been taken by the 15th Scottish Division and the 3d, and
they brought back a number of enormous Bavarians who were like the
Brobdingnagians to these little men of Lilliput and disgusted with
that humiliation. I met the whole crowd of them after that adventure,
as they sat, half naked, picking the lice out of their shirts, and the
conversation I had with them remains in my memory because of its
grotesque humor and tragic comicality. They were excited and
emotional, these stunted men. They cursed the war with the foulest
curses of Scottish and Northern dialects. There was one fellow--the
jester of them all--whose language would have made the poppies blush.
With ironical laughter, outrageous blasphemy, grotesque imagery, he
described the suffering of himself and his mates under barrage fire,
which smashed many of them into bleeding pulp. He had no use for this
war. He cursed the name of "glory." He advocated a trade--unionism
among soldiers to down tools whenever there was a threat of war. He
was a Bolshevist before Bolshevism. Yet he had no liking for Germans
and desired to cut them into small bits, to slit their throats, to
disembowel them. He looked homeward to a Yorkshire town and wondered
what his missus would say if she saw him scratching himself like an
ape, or lying with his head in the earth with shells bursting around
him, or prodding Germans with a bayonet. "Oh," said that five-foot
hero, "there will be a lot of murder after this bloody war. What's
human life? What's the value of one man's throat? We're trained up as
murderers--I don't dislike it, mind you--and after the war we sha'n't
get out of the habit of it. It'll come nat'ral like!"

He was talking for my benefit, egged on to further audacities by a
group of comrades who roared with laughter and said: "Go it, Bill!
That's the stuff!" Among these Lilliputians were fellows who sat aloof
and sullen, or spoke of their adventure with its recent horror in
their eyes. Some of them had big heads on small bodies, as though they
suffered from water on the brain . . . Many of them were sent home
afterward. General Haldane, as commander of the 6th Corps, paraded
them, and poked his stick at the more wizened ones, the obviously
unfit, the degenerates, and said at each prod, "You can go . . . You.
. .You. . . ." The Bantam Division ceased to exist.

They afforded many jokes to the army. One anecdote went the round. A
Bantam died--of disease ("and he would," said General Haldane)--and a
comrade came to see his corpse.

"Shut ze door ven you come out," said the old woman of his billet.
"Fermez la porte, mon vieux."

The living Bantam went to see the dead one, and came downstairs much
moved by grief.

"I've seed poor Bill," he said.

"As-tu ferme la porte?" said the old woman, anxiously.

The Bantam wondered at the anxious inquiry; asked the reason of it.

"C'est a cause du chat!" said the old woman. "Ze cat, Monsieur, 'e
'ave 'ad your friend in ze passage tree time already to-day. Trois
fois!"

Poor little men born of diseased civilization! They were volunteers to
a man, and some of them with as much courage as soldiers twice their
size.

They were the Bantams who told me of the Anglican padre at Longueval.
It was Father Hall of Mirfield, attached to the South African Brigade.
He came out to a dressing station established in the one bit of ruin
which could be used for shelter, and devoted himself to the wounded
with a spiritual fervor. They were suffering horribly from thirst,
which made their tongues swell and set their throats on fire.

"Water!" they cried. "Water! For Christ's sake, water!"

There was no water, except at a well in Longueval, under the fire of
German snipers, who picked off our men when they crawled down like
wild dogs with their tongues lolling out. There was one German officer
there in a shell-hole not far from the well, who sat with his revolver
handy, and he was a dead shot.

But he did not shoot the padre. Something in the face and figure of
that chaplain, his disregard of the bullets snapping about him, the
upright, fearless way in which he crossed that way of death, held back
the trigger-finger of the German officer and he let him pass. He
passed many times, untouched by bullets or machine-gun fire, and he
went into bad places, pits of horror, carrying hot tea, which he made
from the well water for men in agony.




XVII


During these battles I saw thousands of German prisoners, and studied
their types and physiognomy, and, by permission of Intelligence
officers, spoke with many of them in their barbed-wire cages or on the
field of battle when they came along under escort. Some of them looked
degraded, bestial men. One could imagine them guilty of the foulest
atrocities. But in the mass they seemed to me decent, simple men,
remarkably like our own lads from the Saxon counties of England,
though not quite so bright and brisk, as was only natural in their
position as prisoners, with all the misery of war in their souls.
Afterward they worked with patient industry in the prison-camps and
established their own discipline, and gave very little trouble if well
handled. In each crowd of them there were fellows who spoke perfect
English, having lived in England as waiters and hairdressers, or
clerks or mechanics. It was with them I spoke most because it was
easiest, but I know enough German to talk with the others, and I found
among them all the same loathing of war, the same bewilderment as to
its causes, the same sense of being driven by evil powers above them.
The officers were different. They lost a good deal of their arrogance,
but to the last had excuses ready for all that Germany had done, and
almost to the last professed to believe that Germany would win. Their
sense of caste was in their nature. They refused to travel in the same
carriages with their men, to stay even for an hour in the same
inclosures with them. They regarded them, for the most part, as
inferior beings. And there were castes even among the officers. I
remember that in the last phase, when we captured a number of cavalry
officers, these elegant sky-blue fellows held aloof from the infantry
officers and would not mix with them. One of them paced up and down
all night alone, and all next day, stiff in the corsets below that
sky-blue uniform, not speaking to a soul, though within a few yards of
him were many officers of infantry regiments.

Our men treated their prisoners, nearly always, after the blood of
battle was out of their eyes, with a good--natured kindness that
astonished the Germans themselves. I have seen them filling German
water-bottles at considerable trouble, and the escorts, two or three
to a big batch of men, were utterly trustful of them. "Here, hold my
rifle, Fritz," said one of our men, getting down from a truck-train to
greet a friend.

An officer standing by took notice of this.

"Take your rifle back at once! Is that the way to guard your
prisoners?"

Our man was astonished.

"Lor' bless you, sir, they don't want no guarding. They're glad to be
took. They guard themselves."

"Your men are extraordinary," a German officer told me. "They asked me
whether I would care to go down at once or wait till the barrage had
passed."

He seemed amazed at that thoughtfulness for his comfort. It was in the
early days of the Somme fighting, and crowds of our men stood on the
banks above a sunken road, watching the prisoners coming down. This
officer who spoke to me had an Iron Cross, and the men wanted to see
it and handle it.

"Will they give it back again?" he asked, nervously, fumbling at the
ribbon.

"Certainly," I assured him.

He handed it to me, and I gave it to the men, who passed it from one
to the other and then back to the owner.

"Your men are extraordinary," he said. "They are wonderful."

One of the most interesting prisoners I met on the field of battle was
a tall, black-bearded man whom I saw walking away from La Boisselle
when that place was smoking with shell-bursts. An English soldier was
on each side of him, and each man carried a hand-bag, while this
black-bearded giant chatted with them.

It was a strange group, and I edged nearer to them and spoke to one of
the men.

"Who's this? Why do you carry his bags?"

"Oh, we're giving him special privileges," said the man. "He stayed
behind to look after our wounded. Said his job was to look after
wounded, whoever they were. So there he's been, in a dugout bandaging
our lads; and no joke, either. It's hell up there. We're glad to get
out of it."

I spoke to the German doctor and walked with him. He discussed the
philosophy of the war simply and with what seemed like sincerity.

"This war!" he said, with a sad, ironical laugh. "We go on killing one
another-to no purpose. Europe is being bled to death and will be
impoverished for long years. We Germans thought it was a war for
Kultur--our civilization. Now we know it is a war against Kultur,
against religion, against all civilization."

"How will it end?" I asked him.

"I see no end to it," he answered. "It is the suicide of nations.
Germany is strong, and England is strong, and France is strong. It is
impossible for one side to crush the other, so when is the end to
come?"

I met many other prisoners then and a year afterward who could see no
end of the massacre. They believed the war would go on until living
humanity on all sides revolted from the unceasing sacrifice. In the
autumn of 1918, when at last the end came in sight, by German defeat,
unexpected a few months before even by the greatest optimist in the
British armies, the German soldiers were glad. They did not care how
the war ended so long as it ended. Defeat? What did that matter? Was
it worse to be defeated than for the race to perish by bleeding to
death?




XVIII


The struggle for the Pozieres ridge and High Wood lasted from the
beginning of August until the middle of September--six weeks of
fighting as desperate as any in the history of the world until that
time. The Australians dealt with Pozieres itself, working round Moquet
Farm, where the Germans refused to be routed from their tunnels, and
up to the Windmill on the high ground of Pozieres, for which there was
unceasing slaughter on both sides because the Germans counter-attacked
again and again, and waves of men surged up and fell around that mound
of forsaken brick, which I saw as a reddish cone through flame and
smoke.

Those Australians whom I had seen arrive in France had proved their
quality. They had come believing that nothing could be worse than
their ordeal in the Dardanelles. Now they knew that Pozieres was the
last word in frightfulness. The intensity of the shell-fire under
which they lay shook them, if it did not kill them. Many of their
wounded told me that it had broken their nerve. They would never fight
again without a sense of horror.

"Our men are more highly strung than the English," said one Australian
officer, and I was astonished to hear these words, because those
Australians seemed to me without nerves, and as tough as gristle in
their fiber.

They fought stubbornly, grimly, in ground so ravaged with fire that
the earth was finely powdered. They stormed the Pozieres ridge yard by
yard, and held its crest under sweeping barrages which tore up their
trenches as soon as they were dug and buried and mangled their living
flesh. In six weeks they suffered twenty thousand casualties, and
Pozieres now is an Australian graveyard, and the memorial that stands
there is to the ghosts of that splendid youth which fell in heaps
about that plateau and the slopes below. Many English boys of the
Sussex, West Kents, Surrey, and Warwick regiments, in the 18th
Division, died at their side, not less patient in sacrifice, not
liking it better. Many Scots of the 15th and 9th Divisions, many New-
Zealanders, many London men of the 47th and 56th Divisions, fell,
killed or wounded, to the right of them, on the way to Martinpuich,
and Eaucourt l'Abbaye and Flers, from High Wood and Longueval, and
Bazentin. The 3d Division of Yorkshires and Northumberland Fusiliers,
Royal Scots and Gordons, were earning that name of the Iron Division,
and not by any easy heroism. Every division in the British army took
its turn in the blood-bath of the Somme and was duly blooded, at a
cost of 25 per cent. and sometimes 50 per cent. of their fighting
strength. The Canadians took up the struggle at Courcelette and
captured it in a fierce and bloody battle. The Australians worked up
on the right of the Albert-Bapaume road to Thilloy and Ligny Thilloy.
On the far left the fortress of Thiepval had fallen at last after
repeated and frightful assaults, which I watched from ditches close
enough to see our infantry--Wiltshires and Worcesters of the 25th
Division--trudging through infernal fire. And then at last, after five
months of superhuman effort, enormous sacrifice, mass-heroism,
desperate will-power, and the tenacity of each individual human ant in
this wild ant-heap, the German lines were smashed, the Australians
surged into Bapaume, and the enemy, stricken by the prolonged fury of
our attack, fell back in a far and wide retreat across a country which
he laid waste, to the shelter of his Hindenburg line, from Bullecourt
to St.-Quentin.




XIX


The goal of our desire seemed attained when at last we reached Bapaume
after these terrific battles in which all our divisions, numbering
nearly a million men, took part, with not much difference in courage,
not much difference in average of loss. By the end of that year's
fighting our casualties had mounted up to the frightful total of four
hundred thousand men. Those fields were strewn with our dead. Our
graveyards were growing forests of little white crosses. The German
dead lay in heaps. There were twelve hundred corpses littered over the
earth below Loupart Wood, in one mass, and eight hundred of them were
German. I could not walk without treading on them there. When I fell
in the slime I clutched arms and legs. The stench of death was strong
and awful.

But our men who had escaped death and shell-shock kept their sanity
through all this wilderness of slaughter, kept--oh, marvelous!--their
spirit of humor, their faith in some kind of victory. I was with the
Australians on that day when they swarmed into Bapaume, and they
brought out trophies like men at a country fair . . . I remember an
Australian colonel who came riding with a German beer-mug at his
saddle . . . Next day, though shells were still bursting in the ruins,
some Australian boys set up some painted scenery which they had found
among the rubbish, and chalked up the name of the "Coo-ee Theater."

The enemy was in retreat to his Hindenburg line, over a wide stretch
of country which he laid waste behind him, making a desert of French
villages and orchards and parks, so that even the fruit-trees were cut
down, and the churches blown up, and the graves ransacked for their
lead. It was the enemy's first retreat on the western front, and that
ferocious fighting of the British troops had smashed the strongest
defenses ever built in war, and our raw recruits had broken the most
famous regiments of the German army, so in spite of all tragedy and
all agony our men were not downcast, but followed up their enemy with
a sense of excitement because it seemed so much like victory and the
end of war.

When the Germans retreated from Gommecourt, where so many boys of the
56th (London) Division had fallen on the 1st of July, I went through
that evil place by way of Fonquevillers (which we called "Funky
Villas"), and, stumbling over the shell-craters and broken trenches
and dead bodies between the dead masts of slashed and branchless
trees, came into the open country to our outpost line. I met there a
friendly sergeant who surprised me by referring in a casual way to a
little old book of mine.

"This place," he said, glancing at me, "is a strange Street of
Adventure."

It reminded me of another reference to that tale of mine when I was
among a crowd of London lads who had just been engaged in a bloody
fight at a place called The Hairpin.

A young officer sent for me and I found him in the loft of a stinking
barn, sitting in a tub as naked as he was born.

"I just wanted to ask you," he said, "whether Katharine married
Frank?"

The sergeant at Gommecourt was anxious to show me his own Street of
Adventure.

"I belong to Toc-emmas," he said (meaning trench--mortars), "and my
officers would be very pleased if you would have a look at their
latest stunt. We've got a 9.2 mortar in Pigeon Wood, away beyond the
infantry. It's never been done before and we're going to blow old
Fritz out of Kite Copse."

I followed him into the blue, as it seemed to me, and we fell in with
a young officer also on his way to Pigeon Wood. He was in a merry
mood, in spite of harassing fire round about and the occasional howl
of a 5.9. He kept stopping to look at enormous holes in the ground and
laughing at something that seemed to tickle his sense of humor.

"See that?" he said. "That's old Charlie Lowndes's work."

At another pit in upheaved earth he said: "That's Charlie Lowndes
again . . . Old Charlie gave 'em hell. He's a topping chap. You must
meet him . . . My God! look at that!"

He roared with laughter again, on the edge of an unusually large
crater.

"Who is Charlie?" I asked. "Where can I find him?"

"Oh, we shall meet him in Pigeon Wood. He's as pleased as Punch at
having got beyond the infantry. First time it has ever been done. Took
a bit of doing, too, with the largest size of Toc-emma."

We entered Pigeon Wood after a long walk over wild chaos, and, guided
by the officer and sergeant, I dived down into a deep dugout just
captured from the Germans, who were two hundred yards away in Kite
Copse.

"What cheer, Charlie!" shouted the young officer.

"Hullo, fellow-my-lad! . . . Come in. We're getting gloriously binged
on a rare find of German brandy."

"Topping and I've brought a visitor."

Capt. Charles Lowndes--"dear old Charlie"--received us most politely
in one of the best dugouts I ever saw, with smoothly paneled walls
fitted up with shelves, and good deal furniture made to match.

"This is a nice little home in hell," said Charles. "At any moment, of
course, we may be blown to bits, but meanwhile it is very comfy down
here, and what makes everything good is a bottle of rare old brandy
and an unlimited supply of German soda-water. Also to add to the
gaiety of indecent minds there is a complete outfit of ladies'
clothing in a neighboring dugout. Funny fellows those German officers.
Take a pew, won't you? and have a drink. Orderly!"

He shouted for his man and ordered a further supply of German soda-
water.

We drank to the confusion of the enemy, in his own brandy and soda-
water, out of his own mugs, sitting on his own chairs at his own
table, and "dear old Charlie," who was a little etoile, as afterward I
became, with a sense of deep satisfaction (the noise of shells seemed
more remote), discoursed on war, which he hated, German psychology,
trench-mortar barrages (they had simply blown the Boche out of
Gommecourt), and his particular fancy stunt of stealing a march on the
infantry, who, said Captain Lowndes, are "laps behind." Other officers
crowded into the dugout. One of them said: "You must come round to
mine. It's a blasted palace," and I went round later and he told me on
the way that he had escaped so often from shell-bursts that he thought
the average of luck was up and he was bound to get "done in" before
long.

Charlie Lowndes dispensed drinks with noble generosity. There was much
laughter among us, and afterward we went upstairs and to the edge of
the wood, to which a heavy, wet mist was clinging, and I saw the
trench-mortar section play the devil with Kite Copse, over the way.
Late in the afternoon I took my leave of a merry company in that far-
flung outpost of our line, and wished them luck. A few shells crashed
through the wood as I left, but I was disdainful of them after that
admirable brandy. It was a long walk back to "Funky Villas," not
without the interest of arithmetical calculations about the odds of
luck in harassing fire, but a thousand yards or so from Pigeon Wood I
looked back and saw that the enemy had begun to "take notice." Heavy
shells were smashing through the trees there ferociously. I hoped my
friends were safe in their dugouts again. . . .

And I thought of the laughter and gallant spirit of the young men,
after five months of the greatest battles in the history of the world.
It seemed to me wonderful.




XX


I have described what happened on our side of the lines, our fearful
losses, the stream of wounded that came back day by day, the
"Butchers' Shops," the agony in men's souls, the shell-shock cases,
the welter and bewilderment of battle, the shelling of our own troops,
the lack of communication between fighting units and the command, the
filth and stench of the hideous shambles which were our battlefields.
But to complete the picture of that human conflict in the Somme I must
now tell what happened on the German side of the lines, as I was able
to piece the tale together from German prisoners with whom I talked,
German letters which I found in their abandoned dugouts, and documents
which fell into the hands of our staff--officers.

Our men were at least inspirited by the knowledge that they were
beating their enemy back, in spite of their own bloody losses. The
Germans had not even that source of comfort, for whatever it might be
worth under barrage fire. The mistakes of our generalship, the
inefficiency of our staff-work, were not greater than the blunderings
of the German High Command, and their problem was more difficult than
ours because of the weakness of their reserves, owing to enormous
preoccupation on the Russian front. The agony of their men was greater
than ours.

To understand the German situation it must be remembered that from
January to May, 1916, the German command on the western front was
concentrating all its energy and available strength in man-power and
gun--power upon the attack of Verdun. The Crown Prince had staked his
reputation upon that adventure, which he believed would end in the
capture of the strongest French fortress and the destruction of the
French armies. He demanded men and more men, until every unit that
could be spared from other fronts of the line had been thrown into
that furnace. Divisions were called in from other theaters of war, and
increased the strength on the western front to a total of about one
hundred and thirty divisions.

But the months passed and Verdun still held out above piles of German
corpses on its slopes, and in June Germany looked east and saw a great
menace. The Russian offensive was becoming violent. German generals on
the Russian fronts sent desperate messages for help. "Send us more
men," they said, and from the western front four divisions containing
thirty-nine battalions were sent to them.

They must have been sent grudgingly, for now another menace threatened
the enemy, and it was ours. The British armies were getting ready to
strike. In spite of Verdun, France still had men enough---withdrawn
from that part of the line in which they had been relieved by the
British---to co-operate in a new attack.

It was our offensive that the German command feared most, for they had
no exact knowledge of our strength or of the quality of our new
troops. They knew that our army had grown prodigiously since the
assault on Loos, nearly a year before.

They had heard of the Canadian reinforcements, and the coming of the
Australians, and the steady increase of recruiting in England, and
month by month they had heard the louder roar of our guns along the
line, and had seen their destructive effect spreading and becoming
more terrible. They knew of the steady, quiet concentration of
batteries and divisions on the west and south of the Ancre.

The German command expected a heavy blow and, prepared for it, but as
yet had no knowledge of the driving force behind it. What confidence
they had of being able to resist the British attack was based upon the
wonderful strength of the lines which they had been digging and
fortifying since the autumn of the first year of war--"impregnable
positions," they had called them--the inexperience of our troops,
their own immense quantity of machine-guns, the courage and skill of
their gunners, and their profound belief in the superiority of German
generalship.

In order to prevent espionage during the coming struggle, and to
conceal the movement of troops and guns, they ordered the civil
populations to be removed from villages close behind their positions,
drew cordons of military police across the country, picketed
crossroads, and established a network of counter espionage to prevent
any leakage of information.

To inspire the German troops with a spirit of martial fervor (not
easily aroused to fever pitch after the bloody losses before Verdun)
Orders of the Day were issued to the battalions counseling them to
hold fast against the hated English, who stood foremost in the way of
peace (that was the gist of a manifesto by Prince Rupprecht of
Bavaria, which I found in a dugout at Montauban), and promising them a
speedy ending to the war.

Great stores of material and munitions were concentrated at rail-heads
and dumps ready to be sent up to the firing-lines, and the perfection
of German organization may well have seemed flawless--before the
attack began.

When they began they found that in "heavies" and in expenditure of
high explosives they were outclassed.

They were startled, too, by the skill and accuracy of the British
gunners, whom they had scorned as "amateurs," and by the daring of our
airmen, who flew over their lines with the utmost audacity, "spotting"
for the guns, and registering on batteries, communication trenches,
crossroads, rail-heads, and every vital point of organization in the
German war-machine working opposite the British lines north and south
of the Ancre.

Even before the British infantry had left their trenches at dawn on
July 1st, German officers behind the firing--lines saw with anxiety
that all the organization which had worked so smoothly in times of
ordinary trench--warfare was now working only in a hazardous way under
a deadly storm of shells.

Food and supplies of all kinds could not be sent up to front-line
trenches without many casualties, and sometimes could not be sent up
at all. Telephone wires were cut, and communications broken between
the front and headquarters staffs. Staff-officers sent up to report
were killed on the way to the lines. Troops moving forward from
reserve areas came under heavy fire and lost many men before arriving
in the support trenches.

Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, sitting aloof from all this in personal
safety, must have known before July 1st that his resources in men and
material would be strained to the uttermost by the British attack, but
he could take a broader view than men closer to the scene of battle,
and taking into account the courage of his troops (he had no need to
doubt that), the immense strength of their positions, dug and tunneled
beyond the power of high explosives, the number of his machine-guns,
the concentration of his artillery, and the rawness of the British
troops, he could count up the possible cost and believe that in spite
of a heavy price to pay there would be no break in his lines.

At 7.30 A.M. on July 1st the British infantry, as I have told, left
their trenches and attacked on the right angle down from Gommecourt,
Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers, and La Boisselle, and eastward
from Fricourt, below Mametz and Montauban. For a week the German
troops--Bavarians and Prussians--had been crouching in their dugouts,
listening to the ceaseless crashing of the British "drum-fire." In
places like Beaumont Hamel, the men down in the deep tunnels--some of
them large enough to hold a battalion and a half--were safe as long as
they stayed there. But to get in or out was death. Trenches
disappeared into a sea of shell-craters, and the men holding them--for
some men had to stay on duty there--were blown to fragments.

Many of the shallower dugouts were smashed in by heavy shells, and
officers and men lay dead there as I saw them lying on the first days
of July, in Fricourt and Mametz and Montauban. The living men kept
their courage, but below ground, under that tumult of bursting shells,
and wrote pitiful letters to their people at home describing the
horror of those hours.

"We are quite shut off from the rest of the world," wrote one of them.
"Nothing comes to us. No letters. The English keep such a barrage on
our approaches it is terrible. To-morrow evening it will be seven days
since this bombardment began. We cannot hold out much longer.
Everything is shot to pieces."

Thirst was one of their tortures. In many of the tunneled shelters
there was food enough, but the water could not be sent up. The German
soldiers were maddened by thirst. When rain fell many of them crawled
out and drank filthy water mixed with yellow shell-sulphur, and then
were killed by high explosives. Other men crept out, careless of
death, but compelled to drink. They crouched over the bodies of the
men who lay above, or in, the shell-holes, and lapped up the puddles
and then crawled down again if they were not hit.

When our infantry attacked at Gommecourt and Beaumont Hamel and
Thiepval they were received by waves of machine-gun bullets fired by
men who, in spite of the ordeal of our seven days' bombardment, came
out into the open now, at the moment of attack which they knew through
their periscopes was coming. They brought their guns above the shell-
craters of their destroyed trenches under our barrage and served them.
They ran forward even into No Man's Land, and planted their machine-
guns there, and swept down our men as they charged. Over their heads
the German gunners flung a frightful barrage, plowing gaps in the
ranks of our men.

On the left, by Gommecourt and Beaumont Hamel, the British attack
failed, as I have told, but southward the "impregnable" lines were
smashed by a tide of British soldiers as sand castles are overwhelmed
by the waves. Our men swept up to Fricourt, struck straight up to
Montauban on the right, captured it, and flung a loop round Mametz
village.

For the German generals, receiving their reports with great difficulty
because runners were killed and telephones broken, the question was:
"How will these British troops fight in the open after their first
assault? How will our men stand between the first line and the
second?"

As far as the German troops were concerned, there were no signs of
cowardice, or "low morale" as we called it more kindly, in those early
days of the struggle. They fought with a desperate courage, holding on
to positions in rearguard actions when our guns were slashing them and
when our men were getting near to them, making us pay a heavy price
for every little copse or gully or section of trench, and above all
serving their machine-guns at La Boisselle, Ovillers, above Fricourt,
round Contalmaison, and at all points of their gradual retreat, with a
wonderful obstinacy, until they were killed or captured. But fresh
waves of British soldiers followed those who were checked or broken.

After the first week of battle the German General Staff had learned
the truth about the qualities of those British "New Armies" which had
been mocked and caricatured in German comic papers. They learned that
these "amateur soldiers" had the qualities of the finest troops in the
world--not only extreme valor, but skill and cunning, not only a great
power of endurance under the heaviest fire, but a spirit of attack
which was terrible in its effect. They were fierce bayonet fighters.
Once having gained a bit of earth or a ruined village, nothing would
budge them unless they could be blasted out by gun-fire. General Sixt
von Arnim put down some candid notes in his report to Prince
Rupprecht.

"The English infantry shows great dash in attack, a factor to which
immense confidence in its overwhelming artillery greatly contributes .
. . It has shown great tenacity in defense. This was especially
noticeable in the case of small parties, which, when once established
with machine-guns in the corner of a wood or a group of houses, were
very difficult to drive out."

The German losses were piling up. The agony of the German troops under
our shell-fire was reaching unnatural limits of torture. The early
prisoners I saw--Prussians and Bavarians of the 14th Reserve Corps--
were nerve-broken, and told frightful stories of the way in which
their regiments had been cut to pieces. The German generals had to
fill up the gaps, to put new barriers of men against the waves of
British infantry. They flung new troops into the line, called up
hurriedly from reserve depots.

Now, for the first time, their staff-work showed signs of disorder and
demoralization. When the Prussian Guards Reserves were brought up from
Valenciennes to counter--attack at Contalmaison they were sent on to
the battlefield without maps or local guides, and walked straight into
our barrage. A whole battalion was cut to pieces and many others
suffered frightful things. Some of the prisoners told me that they had
lost three-quarters of their number in casualties, and our troops
advanced over heaps of killed and wounded.

The 122d Bavarian Regiment in Contalmaison was among those which
suffered horribly. Owing to our ceaseless gun-fire, they could get no
food-supplies and no water. The dugouts were crowded, so that they had
to take turns to get into these shelters, and outside our shells were
bursting over every yard of ground.

"Those who went outside," a prisoner told me, "were killed or wounded.
Some of them had their heads blown off, and some of them their arms.
But we went on taking turns in the hole, although those who went
outside knew that it was their turn to die, most likely. At last most
of those who came into the hole were wounded, some of them badly, so
that we lay in blood." That is one little picture in a great panorama
of bloodshed.

The German command was not thinking much about the human suffering of
its troops. It was thinking of the next defensive line upon which they
would have to fall back if the pressure of the British offensive could
be maintained--the Longueval-Bazentin-Pozires line. It was getting
nervous. Owing to the enormous efforts made in the Verdun offensive,
the supplies of ammunition were not adequate to the enormous demand.

The German gunners were trying to compete with the British in
continuity of bombardments and the shells were running short. Guns
were wearing out under this incessant strain, and it was difficult to
replace them. General von Gallwitz received reports of "an alarmingly
large number of bursts in the bore, particularly in field-guns."

General von Arnim complained that "reserve supplies of ammunition were
only available in very small quantities." The German telephone system
proved "totally inadequate in consequence of the development which the
fighting took." The German air service was surprisingly weak, and the
British airmen had established temporary mastery.

"The numerical superiority of the enemy's airmen," noted General von
Arnim, "and the fact that their machines were better made, became
disagreeably apparent to us, particularly in their direction of the
enemy's artillery fire and in bomb-dropping."

On July 15th the British troops broke the German second line at
Longueval and the Bazentins, and inflicted great losses upon the
enemy, who fought with their usual courage until the British bayonets
were among them.

A day or two later the fortress of Ovillers fell, and the remnants of
the garrison--one hundred and fifty strong--after a desperate and
gallant resistance in ditches and tunnels, where they had fought to
the last, surrendered with honor.

Then began the long battle of the woods--Devil's Wood, High Wood,
Trones Wood--continued through August with most fierce and bloody
fighting, which ended in our favor and forced the enemy back,
gradually but steadily, in spite of the terrific bombardments which
filled those woods with shell-fire and the constant counter-attacks
delivered by the Germans.

"Counter-attack!" came the order from the German staff, and battalions
of men marched out obediently to certain death, sometimes with
incredible folly on the part of their commanding officers, who ordered
these attacks to be made without the slightest chance of success.

I saw an example of that at close range during a battle at Falfemont
Farm, near Guillemont. Our men had advanced from Wedge Wood, and I
watched them from a trench just south of this, to which I had gone at
a great pace over shell-craters and broken wire, with a young
observing officer who had been detailed to report back to the guns.
(Old "Falstaff," whose songs and stories had filled the tent under the
Red Cross with laughter, toiled after us gallantly, but grunting and
sweating under the sun like his prototype, until we lost him in our
hurry.) Presently a body of Germans came out of a copse called Leuze
Wood, on rising ground, faced round among the thin, slashed trees of
Falfemont, and advanced toward our men, shoulder to shoulder, like a
solid bar. It was sheer suicide. I saw our men get their machineguns
into action, and the right side of the living bar frittered away, and
then the whole line fell into the scorched grass. Another line
followed. They were tall men, and did not falter as they came forward,
but it seemed to me they walked like men conscious of going to death.
They died. The simile is outworn, but it was exactly as though some
invisible scythe had mown them down.

In all the letters written during those weeks of fighting and captured
by us from dead or living men there was one cry of agony and horror.

"I stood on the brink of the most terrible days of my life," wrote one
of them. "They were those of the battle of the Somme. It began with a
night attack on August 13th and 14th. The attack lasted till the
evening of the 18th, when the English wrote on our bodies in letters
of blood, 'It is all over with you.' A handful of half-mad, wretched
creatures, worn out in body and mind, were all that was left of a
whole battalion. We were that handful."

The losses of many of the German battalions were staggering (yet not
greater than our own), and by the middle of August the morale of the
troops was severely shaken. The 117th Division by Pozires suffered
very heavily. The 11th Reserve and 157th Regiments each lost nearly
three-quarters of their effectives. The 9th Reserve Corps had also
lost heavily. The 9th Reserve Jager Battalion lost about three-
quarters, the 84th Reserve and 86th Reserve over half. On August 10th
the 16th Division had six battalions in reserve.

By August 19th, owing to the large number of casualties, the greater
part of those reserves had been absorbed into the front and support
trenches, leaving as available reserves two exhausted battalions.

The weakness of the division and the absolute necessity of reinforcing
it led to the 15th Reserve Infantry Regiment (2d Guards Division)
being brought up to strengthen the right flank in the Leipzig salient.
This regiment had suffered casualties to the extent of over 50 percent
west of Pozires during the middle of July, and showed no eagerness to
return to the fight. These are but a few examples of what was
happening along the whole of the German front on the Somme.

It became apparent by the end of August that the enemy was in trouble
to find fresh troops to relieve his exhausted divisions, and that the
wastage was faster than the arrival of new men. It was noticeable that
he left divisions in the line until incapable of further effort rather
than relieving them earlier so that after resting they might again be
brought on to the battlefield. The only conclusion to be drawn from
this was that the enemy had not sufficient formations available to
make the necessary reliefs.

In July three of these exhausted divisions were sent to the east,
their place being taken by two new divisions, and in August three more
exhausted divisions were sent to Russia, eight new divisions coming to
the Somme front. The British and French offensive was drawing in all
the German reserves and draining them of their life's blood.

"We entrained at Savigny," wrote a man of one of these regiments, "and
at once knew our destination. It was our old blood-bath--the Somme."

In many letters this phrase was used. The Somme was called the "Bath
of Blood" by the German troops who waded across its shell-craters and
in the ditches which were heaped with their dead. But what I have
described is only the beginning of the battle, and the bath was to be
filled deeper in the months that followed.




XXI


The name (that "blood-bath") and the news of battle could not be
hidden from the people of Germany, who had already been chilled with
horror by the losses at Verdun, nor from the soldiers of reserve
regiments quartered in French and Belgian towns like Valenciennes, St.
Quentin, Cambrai, Lille, Bruges, and as far back as Brussels, waiting
to go to the front, nor from the civil population of those towns, held
for two years by their enemy--these blond young men who lived in their
houses, marched down their streets, and made love to their women.

The news was brought down from the Somme front by Red Cross trains,
arriving in endless succession, and packed with maimed and mangled
men. German military policemen formed cordons round the railway
stations, pushed back civilians who came to stare with somber eyes at
these blanketed bundles of living flesh, but when the ambulances
rumbled through the streets toward the hospitals--long processions of
them, with the soles of men's boots turned up over the stretchers on
which they lay quiet and stiff--the tale was told, though no word was
spoken.

The tale of defeat, of great losses, of grave and increasing anxiety,
was told clearly enough--as I read in captured letters--by the faces
of German officers who went about in these towns behind the lines with
gloomy looks, and whose tempers, never of the sweetest, became
irritable and unbearable, so that the soldiers hated them for all this
cursing and bullying. A certain battalion commander had a nervous
breakdown because he had to meet his colonel in the morning.

"He is dying with fear and anxiety," wrote one of his comrades.

Other men, not battalion commanders, were even more afraid of their
superior officers, upon whom this bad news from the Somme had an evil
effect.

The bad news was spread by divisions taken out of the line and sent
back to rest. The men reported that their battalions had been cut to
pieces. Some of their regiments had lost three-quarters of their
strength. They described the frightful effect of the British
artillery--the smashed trenches, the shell-crater, the horror.

It was not good for the morale of men who were just going up there to
take their turn.

The man who was afraid of his colonel "sits all day long writing home,
with the picture of his wife and children before his eyes." He was
afraid of other things.

Bavarian soldiers quarreled with Prussians, accused them (unjustly) of
shirking the Somme battlefields and leaving the Bavarians to go to the
blood-bath.

"All the Bavarian troops are being sent to the Somme (this much is
certain, you can see no Prussians there), and this in spite of the
losses the 1st Bavarian Corps suffered recently at Verdun! And how we
did suffer! . . . It appears that we are in for another turn--at least
the 5th Bavarian Division. Everybody has been talking about it for a
long time. To the devil with it! Every Bavarian regiment is being sent
into it, and it's a swindle."

It was in no cheerful mood that men went away to the Somme
battlefields. Those battalions of gray-clad men entrained without any
of the old enthusiasm with which they had gone to earlier battles.
Their gloom was noticed by the officers.

"Sing, you sheeps' heads, sing!" they shouted.

They were compelled to sing, by order.

"In the afternoon," wrote a man of the 18th Reserve Division, "we had
to go out again; we were to learn to sing. The greater part did not
join in, and the song went feebly. Then we had to march round in a
circle and sing, and that went no better. After that we had an hour
off, and on the way back to billets we were to sing 'Deutschland uber
Alles,' but this broke down completely. One never hears songs of the
Fatherland any more."

They were silent, grave-eyed men who marched through the streets of
French and Belgian towns to be entrained for the Somme front, for they
had forebodings of the fate before them. Yet none of their forebodings
were equal in intensity of fear to the frightful reality into which
they were flung.

The journey to the Somme front, on the German side, was a way of
terror, ugliness, and death. Not all the imagination of morbid minds
searching obscenely for foulness and blood in the great, deep pits of
human agony could surpass these scenes along the way to the German
lines round Courcelette and Flers, Gueudecourt, Morval, and Lesboeufs.

Many times, long before a German battalion had arrived near the
trenches, it was but a collection of nerve--broken men bemoaning
losses already suffered far behind the lines and filled with hideous
apprehension. For British long-range guns were hurling high explosives
into distant villages, barraging crossroads, reaching out to rail-
heads and ammunition-dumps, while British airmen were on bombing
flights over railway stations and rest-billets and highroads down
which the German troops came marching at Cambrai, Bapaume, in the
valley between Irles and Warlencourt, at Ligny-Thilloy, Busigny, and
many other places on the lines of route.

German soldiers arriving one morning at Cambrai by train found
themselves under the fire of a single airplane which flew very low and
dropped bombs. They exploded with heavy crashes, and one bomb hit the
first carriage behind the engine, killing and wounding several men. A
second bomb hit the station buildings, and there was a clatter of
broken glass, the rending of wood, and the fall of bricks. All lights
went out, and the German soldiers groped about in the darkness amid
the splinters of glass and the fallen bricks, searching for the
wounded by the sound of their groans. It was but one scene along the
way to that blood-bath through which they had to wade to the trenches
of the Somme.

Flights of British airplanes circled over the villages on the way. At
Grevilliers, in August, eleven 112-16 bombs fell in the market square,
so that the center of the village collapsed in a state of ruin,
burying soldiers billeted there. Every day the British airmen paid
these visits, meeting the Germans far up the roads on their way to the
Somme, and swooping over them like a flying death. Even on the march
in open country the German soldiers tramping silently along--not
singing in spite of orders--were bombed and shot at by these British
aviators, who flew down very low, pouring out streams of machine-gun
bullets. The Germans lost their nerve at such times, and scattered
into the ditches, falling over one another, struck and cursed by their
Unteroffizieren, and leaving their dead and wounded in the roadway.

As the roads went nearer to the battlefields they were choked with the
traffic of war, with artillery and transport wagons and horse
ambulances, and always thousands of gray men marching up to the lines,
or back from them, exhausted and broken after many days in the fires
of hell up there. Officers sat on their horses by the roadside,
directing all the traffic with the usual swearing and cursing, and
rode alongside the transport wagons and the troops, urging them
forward at a quicker pace because of stern orders received from
headquarters demanding quicker movement. The reserves, it seemed, were
desperately wanted up in the lines. The English were attacking again .
. . God alone knew what was happening. Regiments had lost their way.
Wounded were pouring back. Officers had gone mad. Into the midst of
all this turmoil shells fell--shells from long-range guns. Transport
wagons were blown to bits. The bodies and fragments of artillery
horses lay all over the roads. Men lay dead or bleeding under the
debris of gun-wheels and broken bricks. Above all the noise of this
confusion and death in the night the hard, stern voices of German
officers rang out, and German discipline prevailed, and men marched on
to greater perils.

They were in the shell-zone now, and sometimes a regiment on the march
was tracked all along the way by British gun-fire directed from
airplanes and captive balloons. It was the fate of a captured officer
I met who had detrained at Bapaume for the trenches at Contalmaison.

At Bapaume his battalion was hit by fragments of twelve-inch shells.
Nearer to the line they came under the fire of eight-inch and six-inch
shells. Four-point-sevens (4.7's) found them somewhere by Bazentin. At
Contalmaison they marched into a barrage, and here the officer was
taken prisoner. Of his battalion there were few men left.

It was so with the 3d Jager Battalion, ordered up hurriedly to make a
counter-attack near Flers. They suffered so heavily on the way to the
trenches that no attack could be made. The stretcher-bearers had all
the work to do.

The way up to the trenches became more tragic as every kilometer was
passed, until the stench of corruption was wafted on the wind, so that
men were sickened, and tried not to breathe, and marched hurriedly to
get on the lee side of its foulness. They walked now through places
which had once been villages, but were sinister ruins where death lay
in wait for German soldiers.

"It seems queer to me," wrote one of them, "that whole villages close
to the front look as flattened as a child's toy run over by a steam-
roller. Not one stone remains on another. The streets are one line of
shell--holes. Add to that the thunder of the guns, and you will see
with what feelings we come into the line--into trenches where for
months shells of all caliber have rained. . . Flers is a scrap heap."

Again and again men lost their way up to the lines. The reliefs could
only be made at night lest they should be discovered by British airmen
and British gunners, and even if these German soldiers had trench maps
the guidance was but little good when many trenches had been smashed
in and only shell-craters could be found.

"In the front line of Flers," wrote one of these Germans, "the men
were only occupying shell-holes. Behind there was the intense smell of
putrefaction which filled the trench--almost unbearably. The corpses
lie either quite insufficiently covered with earth on the edge of the
trench or quite close under the bottom of the trench, so that the
earth lets the stench through. In some places bodies lie quite
uncovered in a trench recess, and no one seems to trouble about them.
One sees horrible pictures--here an arm, here a foot, here a head,
sticking out of the earth. And these are all German soldiers-heroes!

"Not far from us, at the entrance to a dugout, nine men were buried,
of whom three were dead. All along the trench men kept on getting
buried. What had been a perfect trench a few hours before was in parts
completely blown in . . . The men are getting weaker. It is impossible
to hold out any longer. Losses can no longer be reckoned accurately.
Without a doubt many of our people are killed."

That is only one out of thousands of such gruesome pictures, true as
the death they described, true to the pictures on our side of the line
as on their side, which went back to German homes during the battles
of the Somme. Those German soldiers were great letter-writers, and men
sitting in wet ditches, in "fox-holes," as they called their dugouts,
"up to my waist in mud," as one of them described, scribbled pitiful
things which they hoped might reach their people at home, as a voice
from the dead. For they had had little hope of escape from the blood--
bath. "When you get this I shall be a corpse," wrote one of them, and
one finds the same foreboding in many of these documents.

Even the lucky ones who could get some cover from the incessant
bombardment by English guns began to lose their nerves after a day or
two. They were always in fear of British infantry sweeping upon them
suddenly behind the Trommelfeuer, rushing their dugouts with bombs and
bayonets. Sentries became "jumpy," and signaled attacks when there
were no attacks. The gas--alarm was sounded constantly by the clang of
a bell in the trench, and men put on their heavy gas-masks and sat in
them until they were nearly stifled.

Here is a little picture of life in a German dugout near the British
lines, written by a man now dead:

"The telephone bell rings. 'Are you there? Yes, here's Nau's
battalion.' 'Good. That is all.' Then that ceases, and now the wire is
in again perhaps for the twenty-fifth or thirtieth time. Thus the
night is interrupted, and now they come, alarm messages, one after the
other, each more terrifying than the other, of enormous losses through
the bombs and shells of the enemy, of huge masses of troops advancing
upon us, of all possible possibilities, such as a train broken down,
and we are tortured by all the terrors that the mind can invent. Our
nerves quiver. We clench our teeth. None of us can forget the horrors
of the night."

Heavy rain fell and the dugouts became wet and filthy.

"Our sleeping-places were full of water. We had to try and bail out
the trenches with cooking-dishes. I lay down in the water with G-. We
were to have worked on dugouts, but not a soul could do any more. Only
a few sections got coffee. Mine got nothing at all. I was frozen in
every limb, poured the water out of my boots, and lay down again."

Our men suffered exactly the same things, but did not write about
them.

The German generals and their staffs could not be quite indifferent to
all this welter of human suffering among their troops, in spite of the
cold, scientific spirit with which they regarded the problem of war.
The agony of the individual soldier would not trouble them. There is
no war without agony. But the psychology of masses of men had to be
considered, because it affects the efficiency of the machine.

The German General Staff on the western front was becoming seriously
alarmed by the declining morale of its infantry under the increasing
strain of the British attacks, and adopted stern measures to cure it.
But it could not hope to cure the heaps of German dead who were lying
on the battlefields, nor the maimed men who were being carried back to
the dressing stations, nor to bring back the prisoners taken in droves
by the French and British troops.

Before the attack on the Flers line, the capture of Thiepval, and the
German debacle at Beaumont Hamel, in November, the enemy's command was
already filled with a grave anxiety at the enormous losses of its
fighting strength; was compelled to adopt new expedients for
increasing the number of its divisions. It was forced to withdraw
troops badly needed on other fronts, and the successive shocks of the
British offensive reached as far as Germany itself, so that the whole
of its recruiting system had to be revised to fill up the gaps torn
out of the German ranks.




XXII


All through July and August the enemy's troops fought with wonderful
and stubborn courage, defending every bit of broken woodland, every
heap of bricks that was once a village, every line of trenches smashed
by heavy shell-fire, with obstinacy.

It is indeed fair and just to say that throughout those battles of the
Somme our men fought against an enemy hard to beat, grim and resolute,
and inspired sometimes with the courage of despair, which was hardly
less dangerous than the courage of hope.

The Australians who struggled to get the high ground at Pozieres did
not have an easy task. The enemy made many counter-attacks against
them. All the ground thereabouts was, as I have said, so smashed that
the earth became finely powdered, and it was the arena of bloody
fighting at close quarters which did not last a day or two, but many
weeks. Mouquet Farm was like the phoenix which rose again out of its
ashes. In its tunneled ways German soldiers hid and came out to fight
our men in the rear long after the site of the farm was in our hands.

But the German troops were fighting what they knew to be a losing
battle. They were fighting rear-guard actions, trying to gain time for
the hasty digging of ditches behind them, trying to sell their lives
at the highest price.

They lived not only under incessant gun-fire, gradually weakening
their nerve-power, working a physical as well as a moral change in
them, but in constant terror of British attacks.

They could never be sure of safety at any hour of the day or night,
even in their deepest dugouts. The British varied their times of
attack. At dawn, at noon, when the sun was reddening in the west, just
before the dusk, in pitch darkness, even, the steady, regular
bombardment that had never ceased all through the days and nights
would concentrate into the great tumult of sudden drum-fire, and
presently waves of men--English or Scottish or Irish, Australians or
Canadians--would be sweeping on to them and over them, rummaging down
into the dugouts with bombs and bayonets, gathering up prisoners,
quick to kill if men were not quick to surrender.

In this way Thiepval was encircled so that the garrison there--the
180th Regiment, who had held it for two years--knew that they were
doomed. In this way Guillemont and Ginchy fell, so that in the first
place hardly a man out of two thousand men escaped to tell the tale of
horror in German lines, and in the second place there was no long
fight against the Irish, who stormed it in a wild, fierce rush which
even machine-guns could not check. The German General Staff was
getting flurried, grabbing at battalions from other parts of the line,
disorganizing its divisions under the urgent need of flinging in men
to stop this rot in the lines, ordering counter-attacks which were
without any chance of success, so that thin waves of men came out into
the open, as I saw them several times, to be swept down by scythes of
bullets which cut them clean to the earth. Before September 15th they
hoped that the British offensive was wearing itself out. It seemed to
them at least doubtful that after the struggle of two and a half
months the British troops could still have spirit and strength enough
to fling themselves against new lines.

But the machinery of their defense was crumbling. Many of their guns
had worn out, and could not be replaced quickly enough. Many batteries
had been knocked out in their emplacements along the line of Bazentin
and Longueval before the artillery was drawn back to Grand-court and a
new line of safety. Battalion commanders clamored for greater supplies
of hand-grenades, intrenching-tools, trench-mortars, signal rockets,
and all kinds of fighting material enormously in excess of all
previous requirements.

The difficulties of dealing with the wounded, who littered the
battlefields and choked the roads with the traffic of ambulances,
became increasingly severe, owing to the dearth of horses for
transport and the longer range of British guns which had been brought
far forward.

The German General Staff studied its next lines of defense away
through Courcelette, Martinpuich, Lesboeufs, Morval, and Combles, and
they did not look too good, but with luck and the courage of German
soldiers, and the exhaustion--surely those fellows were exhausted!--of
British troops--good enough.

On September 15th the German command had another shock when the whole
line of the British troops on the Somme front south of the Ancre rose
out of their trenches and swept over the German defenses in a tide.

Those defenses broke hopelessly, and the waves dashed through. Here
and there, as on the German left at Morval and Lesboeufs, the bulwarks
stood for a time, but the British pressed against them and round them.
On the German right, below the little river of the Ancre, Courcelette
fell, and Martinpuich, and at last, as I have written, High Wood,
which the Germans desired to hold at all costs, and had held against
incessant attacks by great concentration of artillery, was captured
and left behind by the London men. A new engine of war had come as a
demoralizing influence among German troops, spreading terror among
them on the first day out of the tanks. For the first time the Germans
were outwitted in inventions of destruction; they who had been
foremost in all engines of death. It was the moment of real panic in
the German lines--a panic reaching back from the troops to the High
Command.

Ten days later, on September 25th, when the British made a new
advance--all this time the French were pressing forward, too, on our
right by Roye--Combles was evacuated without a fight and with a litter
of dead in its streets; Gueudecourt, Lesboeufs, and Morval were lost
by the Germans; and a day later Thiepval, the greatest fortress
position next to Beaumont Hamel, fell, with all its garrison taken
prisoners.

They were black days in the German headquarters, where staff-officers
heard the news over their telephones and sent stern orders to
artillery commanders and divisional generals, and after dictating new
instructions that certain trench systems must be held at whatever
price, heard that already they were lost.

It was at this time that the morale of the German troops on the Somme
front showed most signs of breaking. In spite of all their courage,
the ordeal had been too hideous for them, and in spite of all their
discipline, the iron discipline of the German soldier, they were on
the edge of revolt. The intimate and undoubted facts of this break in
the morale of the enemy's troops during this period reveal a pitiful
picture of human agony.

"We are now fighting on the Somme with the English," wrote a man of
the 17th Bavarian Regiment. "You can no longer call it war. It is mere
murder. We are at the focal-point of the present battle in Foureaux
Wood (near Guillemont). All my previous experiences in this war--the
slaughter at Ypres and the battle in the gravel-pit at Hulluch--are
the purest child's play compared with this massacre, and that is much
too mild a description. I hardly think they will bring us into the
fight again, for we are in a very bad way."

"From September 12th to 27th we were on the Somme," wrote a man of the
l0th Bavarians, "and my regiment had fifteen hundred casualties."

A detailed picture of the German losses under our bombardment was
given in the diary of an officer captured in a trench near Flers, and
dated September 22d.

"The four days ending September 4th, spent in the trenches, were
characterized by a continual enemy bombardment that did not abate for
a single instant. The enemy had registered on our trenches with light,
as well as medium and heavy, batteries, notwithstanding that he had no
direct observation from his trenches, which lie on the other side of
the summit. His registering was done by his excellent air service,
which renders perfect reports of everything observed.

"During the first day, for instance, whenever the slightest movement
was visible in our trenches during the presence, as is usually the
case, of enemy aircraft flying as low as three and four hundred yards,
a heavy bombardment of the particular section took place. The very
heavy losses during the first day brought about the resolution to
evacuate the trenches during the daytime. Only a small garrison was
left, the remainder withdrawing to a part of the line on the left of
the Martinpuich-Pozieres road.

"The signal for a bombardment by 'heavies' was given by the English
airplanes. On the first day we tried to fire by platoons on the
airplanes, but a second airplane retaliated by dropping bombs and
firing his machine-gun at our troops. Our own airmen appeared only
once for a short time behind our lines.

"While many airplanes are observing from early morning till late at
night, our own hardly ever venture near. The opinion is that our
trenches cannot protect troops during a barrage of the shortest
duration, owing to lack of dugouts.

"The enemy understands how to prevent, with his terrible barrage, the
bringing up of building material, and even how to hinder the work
itself. The consequence is that our trenches are always ready for an
assault on his part. Our artillery, which does occasionally put a
heavy barrage on the enemy trenches at a great expense of ammunition,
cannot cause similar destruction to him. He can bring his building
material up, can repair his trenches as well as build new ones, can
bring up rations and ammunition, and remove the wounded.

"The continual barrage on our lines of communication makes it very
difficult for us to ration and relieve our troops, to supply water,
ammunition, and building material, to evacuate wounded, and causes
heavy losses. This and the lack of protection from artillery fire and
the weather, the lack of hot meals, the continual necessity of lying
still in the same place, the danger of being buried, the long time the
wounded have to remain in the trenches, and chiefly the terrible
effect of the machine--and heavy-artillery fire, controlled by an
excellent air service, has a most demoralizing effect on the troops.

"Only with the greatest difficulty could the men be persuaded to stay
in the trenches under those conditions."

There were some who could not be persuaded to stay if they could see
any chance of deserting or malingering. For the first time on our
front the German officers could not trust the courage of their men,
nor their loyalty, nor their sense of discipline. All this horror of
men blown to bits over living men, of trenches heaped with dead and
dying, was stronger than courage, stronger than loyalty, stronger than
discipline. A moral rot was threatening to bring the German troops on
the Somme front to disaster.

Large numbers of men reported sick and tried by every kind of trick to
be sent back to base hospitals.

In the 4th Bavarian Division desertions were frequent, and several
times whole bodies of men refused to go forward into the front line.
The morale of men in the 393d Regiment, taken at Courcelette, seemed
to be very weak. One of the prisoners declared that they gave
themselves up without firing a shot, because they could trust the
English not to kill them.

The platoon commander had gone away, and the prisoner was ordered to
alarm the platoon in case of attack, but did not do so on purpose.
They did not shoot with rifles or machine-guns and did not throw
bombs.

Many of the German officers were as demoralized as the men, shirking
their posts in the trenches, shamming sickness, and even leading the
way to surrender. Prisoners of the 351st Regiment, which lost thirteen
hundred men in fifteen days, told of officers who had refused to take
their men up to the front-line, and of whole companies who had
declined to move when ordered to do so. An officer of the 74th
Landwehr Regiment is said by prisoners to have told his men during our
preliminary bombardment to surrender as soon as we attacked.

A German regimental order says: "I must state with the greatest regret
that the regiment, during this change of position, had to take notice
of the sad fact that men of four of the companies, inspired by
shameful cowardice, left their companies on their own initiative and
did not move into line."

Another order contains the same fact, and a warning of what punishment
may be meted out:

"Proofs are multiplying of men leaving the position without permission
and hiding at the rear. It is our duty . . . each at his post--to deal
with this fact with energy and success."

Many Bavarians complained that their officers did not accompany them
into the trenches, but went down to the hospitals with imaginary
diseases. In any case there was a great deal of real sickness, mental
and physical. The ranks were depleted by men suffering from fever,
pleurisy, jaundice, and stomach complaints of all kinds, twisted up
with rheumatism after lying in waterlogged holes, lamed for life by
bad cases of trench-foot, and nerve-broken so that they could do
nothing but weep.

The nervous cases were the worst and in greatest number. Many men went
raving mad. The shell-shock victims clawed at their mouths
unceasingly, or lay motionless like corpses with staring eyes, or
trembled in every limb, moaning miserably and afflicted with a great
terror.

To the Germans (barely less to British troops) the Somme battlefields
were not only shambles, but a territory which the devil claimed as his
own for the torture of men's brains and souls before they died in the
furnace fires. A spirit of revolt against all this crept into the
minds of men who retained their sanity--a revolt against the people
who had ordained this vast outrage against God and humanity.

Into German letters there crept bitter, burning words against "the
millionaires--who grow rich out of the war," against the high people
who live in comfort behind the lines. Letters from home inflamed these
thoughts.

It was not good reading for men under shell-fire.

"It seems that you soldiers fight so that official stay-at-homes can
treat us as female criminals. Tell me, dear husband, are you a
criminal when you fight in the trenches, or why do people treat women
and children here as such? . . .

"For the poor here it is terrible, and yet the rich, the gilded ones,
the bloated aristocrats, gobble up everything in front of our very
eyes . . . All soldiers--friend and foe--ought to throw down their
weapons and go on strike, so that this war which enslaves the people
more than ever may cease.

Thousands of letters, all in this strain, were reaching the German
soldiers on the Somme, and they did not strengthen the morale of men
already victims of terror and despair.

Behind the lines deserters were shot in batches. To those in front
came Orders of the Day warning them, exhorting them, commanding them
to hold fast.

"To the hesitating and faint-hearted in the regiment," says one of
these Orders, "I would say the following:

"What the Englishman can do the German can do also. Or if, on the
other hand, the Englishman really is a better and superior being, he
would be quite justified in his aim as regards this war, viz., the
extermination of the German. There is a further point to be noted:
this is the first time we have been in the line on the Somme, and what
is more, we are there at a time when things are more calm. The English
regiments opposing us have been in the firing-line for the second, and
in some cases even the third, time. Heads up and play the man!"

It was easy to write such documents. It was more difficult to bring up
reserves of men and ammunition. The German command was harder pressed
by the end of September.

From July 1st to September 8th, according to trustworthy information,
fifty-three German divisions in all were engaged against the Allies on
the Somme battlefront. Out of these fourteen were still in the line on
September 8th.

Twenty-eight had been withdrawn, broken and exhausted, to quieter
areas. Eleven more had been withdrawn to rest-billets. Under the
Allies' artillery fire and infantry attacks the average life of a
German division as a unit fit for service on the Somme was nineteen
days. More than two new German divisions had to be brought into the
front-line every week since the end of June, to replace those smashed
in the process of resisting the Allied attack. In November it was
reckoned by competent observers in the field that well over one
hundred and twenty German divisions had been passed through the ordeal
of the Somme, this number including those which have appeared there
more than once.




XXIII


By September 25th, when the British troops made another attack, the
morale of the German troops was reaching its lowest ebb. Except on
their right, at Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt, they were far beyond the
great system of protective dugouts which had given them a sense of
safety before July 1st. Their second and third lines of defense had
been carried, and they were existing in shell-craters and trenches
hastily scraped up under ceaseless artillery fire.

The horrors of the battlefield were piled up to heights of agony and
terror. Living men dwelt among the unburied dead, made their way to
the front-lines over heaps of corpses, breathed in the smell of human
corruption and had always in their ears the cries of the wounded they
could not rescue. They wrote these things in tragic letters--thousands
of them--which never reached their homes in Germany, but lay in their
captured ditches.

"The number of dead lying about is awful. One stumbles over them."

"The stench of the dead lying round us is unbearable."

"We are no longer men here. We are worse than beasts."

"It is hell let loose." . . .  "It is horrible." . . .  "We've lived
in misery."

"If the dear ones at home could see all this perhaps there would be a
change. But they are never told."

"The ceaseless roar of the guns is driving us mad."

Poor, pitiful letters, out of their cries of agony one gets to the
real truth of war-the "glory" and the "splendor" of it preached by the
German philosophers and British Jingoes, who upheld it as the great
strengthening tonic for their race, and as the noblest experience of
men. Every line these German soldiers wrote might have been written by
one of ours; from both sides of the shifting lines there was the same
death and the same hell.

Behind the lines the German General Staff, counting up the losses of
battalions and divisions who staggered out weakly, performed juggling
tricks with what reserves it could lay its hands on, and flung up
stray units to relieve the poor wretches in the trenches. Many of
those reliefs lost their way in going up, and came up late, already
shattered by the shell-fire through which they passed.

"Our position," wrote a German infantry officer, "was, of course,
quite different from what we had been told. Our company alone relieved
a whole battalion. We had been told we were to relieve a company of
fifty men weakened by casualties.

"The men we relieved had no idea where the enemy was, how far off he
was, or whether any of our own troops were in front of us. We got no
idea of our support position until six o'clock this evening. The
English are four hundred yards away, by the windmill over the hill."

One German soldier wrote that the British "seem to relieve their
infantry very quickly, while the German commands work on the principle
of relieving only in the direst need, and leaving the divisions in as
long as possible."

Another wrote that:

"The leadership of the divisions really fell through. For the most
part we did not get orders, and the regiment had to manage as best it
could. If orders arrived they generally came too late or were dealt
out 'from the green table' without knowledge of the conditions in
front, so that to carry them out was impossible."

All this was a sign of demoralization, not only among the troops who
were doing the fighting and the suffering, but among the organizing
generals behind, who were directing the operations. The continual
hammer-strokes of the British and French armies on the Somme
battlefields strained the German war-machine on the western front
almost to breaking-point.

It seemed as though a real debacle might happen, and that they would
be forced to effect a general retreat--a withdrawal more or less at
ease or a retirement under pressure from the enemy . . . .

But they had luck--astonishing luck. At the very time when the morale
of the German soldiers was lowest and when the strain on the High
Command was greatest the weather turned in their favor and gave them
just the breathing-space they desperately needed. Rain fell heavily in
the middle of October, autumn mists prevented airplane activity and
artillery-work, and the ground became a quagmire, so that the British
troops found it difficult to get up their supplies for a new advance.

The Germans were able in this respite to bring up new divisions, fresh
and strong enough to make heavy counter--attacks in the Stuff and
Schwaben and Regina trenches, and to hold the lines more securely for
a time, while great digging was done farther back at Bapaume and the
next line of defense. Successive weeks of bad weather and our own
tragic losses checked the impetus of the British and French driving
power, and the Germans were able to reorganize and reform.

As I have said, the shock of our offensive reached as far as Germany,
and caused a complete reorganization in the system of obtaining
reserves of man-power. The process of "combing out," as we call it,
was pursued with astounding ruthlessness, and German mothers, already
stricken with the loss of their elder sons, raised cries of despair
when the youngest born were also seized--boys of eighteen belonging to
the 1918 class.

The whole of the 1917 class had joined the depots in March and May of
this year, receiving a three months' training before being transferred
to the field-recruit depots in June and July. About the middle of July
the first large drafts joined their units and made their appearance at
the front, and soon after the beginning of our offensive at least half
this class was in the front-line regiments. The massacre of the boys
had begun.

Then older men, men beyond middle age, who correspond to the French
Territorial class, exempted from fighting service and kept on lines of
communication, were also called to the front, and whole garrisons of
these gray heads were removed from German towns to fill up the ranks.

"The view is held here," wrote a German soldier of the Somme, "that
the Higher Command intends gradually to have more and more Landsturm
battalions (men of the oldest reserves) trained in trench warfare for
a few weeks, as we have been, according to the quality of the men, and
thus to secure by degrees a body of troops on which it can count in an
emergency."

In the month of November the German High Command believed that the
British attacks were definitely at an end, "having broken down," as
they claimed, "in mud and blood," but another shock came to them when
once more British troops--the 51st Highland Division and the 63d Naval
Division--left their trenches, in fog and snow, and captured the
strongest fortress position on the enemy's front, at Beaumont Hamel,
bringing back over six thousand prisoners. It was after that they
began their retreat.

These studies of mine, of what happened on both sides of the shifting
lines in the Somme, must be as horrible to read as they were to write.
But they are less than the actual truth, for no pen will ever in one
book, or in hundreds, give the full record of the individual agony,
the broken heart-springs, the soul-shock as well as the shell-shock,
of that frightful struggle in which, on one side and the other, two
million men were engulfed. Modern civilization was wrecked on those
fire-blasted fields, though they led to what we called "Victory." More
died there than the flower of our youth and German manhood. The Old
Order of the world died there, because many men who came alive out of
that conflict were changed, and vowed not to tolerate a system of
thought which had led up to such a monstrous massacre of human beings
who prayed to the same God, loved the same joys of life, and had no
hatred of one another except as it had been lighted and inflamed by
their governors, their philosophers, and their newspapers. The German
soldier cursed the militarism which had plunged him into that horror.
The British soldier cursed the German as the direct cause of all his
trouble, but looked back on his side of the lines and saw an evil
there which was also his enemy--the evil of a secret diplomacy which
juggled with the lives of humble men so that war might be sprung upon
them without their knowledge or consent, and the evil of rulers who
hated German militarism not because of its wickedness, but because of
its strength in rivalry and the evil of a folly in the minds of men
which had taught them to regard war as a glorious adventure, and
patriotism as the right to dominate other peoples, and liberty as a
catch--word of politicians in search of power. After the Somme battles
there were many other battles as bloody and terrible, but they only
confirmed greater numbers of men in the faith that the old world had
been wrong in its "make-up" and wrong in its religion of life. Lip
service to Christian ethics was not good enough as an argument for
this. Either the heart of the world must be changed by a real
obedience to the gospel of Christ or Christianity must be abandoned
for a new creed which would give better results between men and
nations. There could be no reconciling of bayonet-drill and high
explosives with the words "Love one another." Or if bayonet-drill and
high-explosive force were to be the rule of life in preparation for
another struggle such as this, then at least let men put hypocrisy
away and return to the primitive law of the survival of the fittest in
a jungle world subservient to the king of beasts. The devotion of
military chaplains to the wounded, their valor, their decorations for
gallantry under fire, their human comradeship and spiritual sincerity,
would not bridge the gulf in the minds of many soldiers between a
gospel of love and this argument by bayonet and bomb, gas-shell and
high velocity, blunderbuss, club, and trench-shovel. Some time or
other, when German militarism acknowledged defeat by the break of its
machine or by the revolt of its people--not until then--there must be
a new order of things, which would prevent such another massacre in
the fair fields of life, and that could come only by a faith in the
hearts of many peoples breaking down old barriers of hatred and
reaching out to one another in a fellowship of common sense based on
common interests, and inspired by an ideal higher than this beast-like
rivalry of nations. So thinking men thought and talked. So said the
soldier--poets who wrote from the trenches. So said many onlookers.
The simple soldier did not talk like that unless he were a Frenchman.
Our men only began to talk like that after the war--as many of them
are now talking--and the revolt of the spirit, vague but passionate,
against the evil that had produced this devil's trap of war, and the
German challenge, was subconscious as they sat in their dugouts and
crowded in their ditches in the battles of the Somme.




Part Seven


THE FIELDS OF ARMAGEDDON


I


During the two years that followed the battles of the Somme I recorded
in my daily despatches, republished in book form ("The Struggle in
Flanders" and "The Way to Victory"), the narrative of that continuous
conflict in which the British forces on the western front were at
death-grips with the German monster where now one side and then the
other heaved themselves upon their adversary and struggled for the
knock-out blow, until at last, after staggering losses on both sides,
the enemy was broken to bits in the last combined attack by British,
Belgian, French, and American armies. There is no need for me to
retell all that history in detail, and I am glad to know that there is
nothing I need alter in the record of events which I wrote as they
happened, because they have not been falsified by any new evidence;
and those detailed descriptions of mine stand true in fact and in the
emotion of the hours that passed, while masses of men were slaughtered
in the fields of Armageddon.

But now, looking back upon those last two years of the war as an eye-
witness of many tragic and heroic things, I see the frightful drama of
them as a whole and as one act was related to another, and as the plot
which seemed so tangled and confused, led by inevitable stages, not
under the control of any field-marshal or chief of staff, to the
climax in which empires crashed and exhausted nations looked round
upon the ruin which followed defeat and victory. I see also, as in one
picture, the colossal scale of that human struggle in that Armageddon
of our civilization, which at the time one reckoned only by each day's
success or failure, each day's slaughter on that side or the other.
One may add up the whole sum according to the bookkeeping of Fate, by
double-entry, credit and debit, profit and loss. One may set our
attacks in the battles of Flanders against the strength of the German
defense, and say our losses of three to one (as Ludendorff reckons
them, and as many of us guessed) were in our favor, because we could
afford the difference of exchange and the enemy could not put so many
human counters into the pool for the final "kitty" in this gamble with
life and death. One may balance the German offensive in March of '18
with the weight that was piling up against them by the entry of the
Americans. One may also see now, very clearly, the paramount
importance of the human factor in this arithmetic of war, the morale
of men being of greater influence than generalship, though dependent
on it, the spirit of peoples being as vital to success as the
mechanical efficiency of the war-machine; and above all, one is now
able to observe how each side blundered on in a blind, desperate way,
sacrificing masses of human life without a clear vision of the
consequences, until at last one side blundered more than another and
was lost. It will be impossible to pretend in history that our High
Command, or any other, foresaw the thread of plot as it was unraveled
to the end, and so arranged its plan that events happened according to
design. The events of March, 1918, were not foreseen nor prevented by
French or British. The ability of our generals was not imaginative nor
inventive, but limited to the piling up of men and munitions, always
more men and more munitions, against positions of enormous strength
and overcoming obstacles by sheer weight of flesh and blood and high
explosives. They were not cunning so far as I could see, nor in the
judgment of the men under their command, but simple and
straightforward gentlemen who said "once more unto the breach," and
sent up new battering-rams by brigades and divisions. There was no
evidence that I could find of high directing brains choosing the
weakest spot in the enemy's armor and piercing it with a sharp sword,
or avoiding a direct assault against the enemy's most formidable
positions and leaping upon him from some unguarded way. Perhaps that
was impossible in the conditions of modern warfare and the limitations
of the British front until the arrival of the tanks, which, for a long
time, were wasted in the impassable bogs of Flanders, where their
steel skeletons still lie rusting as a proof of heroic efforts vainly
used. Possible or not, and rare genius alone could prove it one way or
another, it appeared to the onlooker, as well as to the soldier who
carried out commands that our method of warfare was to search the map
for a place which was strongest in the enemy's lines, most difficult
to attack, most powerfully defended, and then after due advertisement,
not to take an unfair advantage of the enemy, to launch the assault.
That had always been the English way and that was our way in many
battles of the great war, which were won (unless they were lost) by
the sheer valor of men who at great cost smashed their way through all
obstructions.

The Germans, on the whole, showed more original genius in military
science, varying their methods of attack and defense according to
circumstances, building trenches and dugouts which we never equaled;
inventing the concrete blockhouse or "pill-box" for a forward
defensive zone thinly held in advance of the main battle zone, in
order to lessen their slaughter under the weight of our gun-fire (it
cost us dearly for a time); scattering their men in organized shell-
craters in order to distract our barrage fire; using the "elastic
system of defense" with frightful success against Nivelle's attack in
the Champagne; creating the system of assault of "infiltration" which
broke the Italian lines at Caporetto in 1917 and ours and the French
in 1918. Against all that we may set only our tanks, which in the end
led the way to victory, but the German High Command blundered
atrociously in all the larger calculations of war, so that they
brought about the doom of their empire by a series of acts which would
seem deliberate if we had not known that they were merely blind. With
a folly that still seems incredible, they took the risk of adding the
greatest power in the world--in numbers of men and in potential
energy--to their list of enemies at a time when their own man-power
was on the wane. With deliberate arrogance they flouted the United
States and forced her to declare war. Their temptation, of course, was
great. The British naval blockade was causing severe suffering by food
shortage to the German people and denying them access to raw material
which they needed for the machinery of war.

The submarine campaign, ruthlessly carried out, would and did inflict
immense damage upon British and Allied shipping, and was a deadly
menace to England. But German calculations were utterly wrong, as
Ludendorff in his Memoirs now admits, in estimating the amount of time
needed to break her bonds by submarine warfare before America could
send over great armies to Europe. The German war lords were wrong
again in underestimating the defensive and offensive success of the
British navy and mercantile marine against submarine activities. By
those miscalculations they lost the war in the long run, and by other
errors they made their loss more certain.

One mistake they made was their utter callousness regarding the
psychology and temper of their soldiers and civilian population. They
put a greater strain upon them than human nature could bear, and by
driving their fighting-men into one shambles after another, while they
doped their people with false promises which were never fulfilled,
they sowed the seeds of revolt and despair which finally launched them
into gulfs of ruin. I have read nothing more horrible than the cold-
blooded cruelty of Ludendorff's Memoirs, in which, without any attempt
at self-excuse, he reveals himself as using the lives of millions of
men upon a gambling chance of victory with the hazards weighted
against him, as he admits. Writing of January, 1917, he says: "A
collapse on the part of Russia was by no means to be contemplated and
was, indeed, not reckoned upon by any one. . . Failing the U-boat
campaign we reckoned with the collapse of the Quadruple Alliance
during 1917." Yet with that enormous risk visible ahead, Ludendorff
continued to play the grand jeu, the great game, and did not advise
any surrender of imperial ambitions in order to obtain a peace for his
people, and was furious with the Majority party in the Reichstag for
preparing a peace resolution. The collapse of Russia inspired him with
new hopes of victory in the west, and again he prepared to sacrifice
masses of men in the slaughter-fields. But he blundered again, and
this time fatally. His time-table was out of gear. The U--boat war had
failed. American manhood was pouring into France, and German soldiers
on the Russian front had been infected with ideas most dangerous to
German discipline and the "will to win." At the end, as at the
beginning, the German war lords failed to understand the psychology of
human nature as they had failed to understand the spirit of France, of
Belgium, of Great Britain, and of America. One of the most important
admissions in history is made by Ludendorff when he writes:

"Looking back, I say our decline began clearly with the outbreak of
the revolution in Russia. On the one side the government was dominated
by the fear that the infection would spread, and on the other by the
feeling of their helplessness to instil fresh strength into the masses
of the people and to strengthen their warlike ardor, waning as it was
through a combination of innumerable circumstances."

So the web of fate was spun, and men who thought they were directing
the destiny of the world were merely caught in those woven threads
like puppets tied to strings and made to dance. It was the old Dance
of Death which has happened before in the folly of mankind.




II


During the German retreat to their Hindenburg line we saw the full
ruthlessness of war as never before on the western front, in the
laying waste of a beautiful countryside, not by rational fighting, but
by carefully organized destruction. Ludendorff claims, quite justly,
that it was in accordance with the laws of war. That is true. It is
only that our laws of war are not justified by any code of humanity
above that of primitive savages. "The decision to retreat," he says,
"was not reached without a painful struggle. It implied a confession
of weakness that was bound to raise the morale of the enemy and to
lower our own. But as it was necessary for military reasons we had no
choice. It had to be carried out. . . The whole movement was a
brilliant performance. . . The retirement proved in a high degree
remunerative."

I saw the brilliant performance in its operation. I went into
beautiful little towns like Peronne, where the houses were being
gutted by smoldering fire, and into hundreds of villages where the
enemy had just gone out of them after touching off explosive charges
which had made all their cottages collapse like card houses, their
roofs spread flat upon their ruins, and their churches, after
centuries of worship in them, fall into chaotic heaps of masonry. I
wandered through the ruins of old French chateaux, once very stately
in their terraced gardens, now a litter of brickwork, broken statuary,
and twisted iron--work above open vaults where not even the dead had
been left to lie in peace. I saw the little old fruit-trees of French
peasants sawn off at the base, and the tall trees along the roadsides
stretched out like dead giants to bar our passage. Enormous craters
had been blown in the roadways, which had to be bridged for our
traffic of men and guns, following hard upon the enemy's retreat.

There was a queer sense of illusion as one traveled through this
desolation. At a short distance many of the villages seemed to stand
as before the war. One expected to find inhabitants there. But upon
close approach one saw that each house was but an empty shell blown
out from cellar to roof, and one wandered through the streets of the
ruins in a silence that was broken only by the sound of one's own
voice or by a few shells crashing into the gutted houses. The enemy
was in the next village, or the next but one, with a few field-guns
and a rear-guard of machine-gunners.

In most villages, in many of his dugouts, and by contraptions with
objects lying amid the litter, he had left "booby traps" to blow our
men to bits if they knocked a wire, or stirred an old boot, or picked
up a fountain-pen, or walked too often over a board where beneath acid
was eating through a metal plate to a high-explosive charge. I little
knew when I walked round the tower of the town hall of Bapaume that in
another week, with the enemy far away, it would go up in dust and
ashes. Only a few of our men were killed or blinded by these monkey-
tricks. Our engineers found most of them before they were touched off,
but one went down dugouts or into ruined houses with a sense of
imminent danger. All through the devastated region one walked with an
uncanny feeling of an evil spirit left behind by masses of men whose
bodies had gone away. It exuded from scraps of old clothing, it was in
the stench of the dugouts and in the ruins they had made.

In some few villages there were living people left behind, some
hundreds in Nesle and Roye, and, all told, some thousands. They had
been driven in from the other villages burning around them, their own
villages, whose devastation they wept to see. I met these people who
had lived under German rule and talked with many of them--old women,
wrinkled like dried-up apples, young women waxen of skin, hollow-eyed,
with sharp cheekbones, old peasant farmers and the gamekeepers of
French chateaux, and young boys and girls pinched by years of hunger
that was not quite starvation. It was from these people that I learned
a good deal about the psychology of German soldiers during the battles
of the Somme. They told me of the terror of these men at the
increasing fury of our gun-fire, of their desertion and revolt to
escape the slaughter, and of their rage against the "Great People" who
used them for gun-fodder. Habitually many of them talked of the war as
the "Great Swindle." These French civilians hated the Germans in the
mass with a cold, deadly hatred. They spoke with shrill passion at the
thought of German discipline, fines, punishments, requisitions, which
they had suffered in these years. The hope of vengeance was like water
to parched throats. Yet I noticed that nearly every one of these
people had something good to say about some German soldier who had
been billeted with them. "He was a good-natured fellow. He chopped
wood for me and gave the children his own bread. He wept when he told
me that the village was to be destroyed." Even some of the German
officers had deplored this destruction. "The world will have a right
to call us barbarians," said one of them in Ham. "But what can we do?
We are under orders. If we do not obey we shall be shot. It is the
cruelty of the High Command. It is the cruelty of war."

On the whole it seemed they had not misused the women. I heard no
tales of actual atrocity, though some of brutal passion. But many
women shrugged their shoulders when I questioned them about this and
said: "They had no need to use violence in their way of love--making.
There were many volunteers."

They rubbed their thumbs and fingers together as though touching money
and said, "You understand?"

I understood when I went to a convent in Amiens and saw a crowd of
young mothers with flaxen-haired babies, just arrived from the
liberated districts. "All those are the children of German fathers,"
said the old Reverend Mother. "That is the worst tragedy of war. How
will God punish all this? Alas! it is the innocent who suffer for the
guilty."

Eighteen months later, or thereabouts, I went into a house in Cologne,
where a British outpost was on the Hohenzollern bridge. There was a
babies' creche in an upper room, and a German lady was tending thirty
little ones whose chorus of "Guten Tag! Guten Tag!" was like the
quacking of ducks.

"After to-morrow there will be no more milk for them," she said.

"And then?" I asked.

"And then many of them will die."

She wept a little. I thought of those other babies in Amiens, and of
the old Reverend Mother.

"How will God punish all this? Alas! it is the innocent who suffer for
the guilty."

Of those things General Ludendorff does not write in his Memoirs,
which deal with the strategy and machinery of war.




III


Sir Douglas Haig was not misled into the error of following up the
German retreat, across that devastated country, with masses of men. He
sent forward outposts to keep in touch with the German rear-guards and
prepared to deliver big blows at the Vimy Ridge and the lines round
Arras. This new battle by British troops was dictated by French
strategy rather than by ours. General Nivelle, the new generalissimo,
was organizing a great offensive in the Champagne and desired the
British army to strike first and keep on striking in order to engage
and exhaust German divisions until he was ready to launch his own
legions. The "secret" of his preparations was known by every officer
in the French army and by Hindenburg and his staff, who prepared a new
method of defense to meet it. The French officers with whom I talked
were supremely confident of success. "We shall go through," they said.
"It is certain. Anybody who thinks otherwise is a traitor who betrays
his country by the poison of pessimism. Nivelle will deal the death--
blow." So spoke an officer of the Chasseurs Alpins, and a friend in
the infantry of the line, over a cup of coffee in an estaminet crammed
with other French soldiers who were on their way to the Champagne
front.

Nivelle did not launch his offensive until April 16th, seven days
after the British had captured the heights of Vimy and gone far to the
east of Arras. Hindenburg was ready. He adopted his "elastic system of
defense," which consisted in withdrawing the main body of his troops
beyond the range of the French barrage fire, leaving only a few
outposts to camouflage the withdrawal and be sacrificed for the sake
of the others (those German outposts must have disliked their
martyrdom under orders, and I doubt whether they, poor devils, were
exhilarated by the thought of their heroic service). He also withdrew
the full power of his artillery beyond the range of French counter-
battery work and to such a distance that when it was the German turn
to fire the French infantry would be beyond the effective protection
of their own guns. They were to be allowed an easy walk through to
their death-trap. That is what happened. The French infantry,
advancing with masses of black troops in the Colonial Corps in the
front-line of assault, all exultant and inspired by a belief in
victory, swept through the forward zone of the German defenses,
astonished, and then disconcerted by the scarcity of Germans, until an
annihilating barrage fire dropped upon them and smashed their human
waves. From French officers and nurses I heard appalling tales of this
tragedy. The death--wail of the black troops froze the blood of
Frenchmen with horror. Their own losses were immense in a bloody
shambles. I was told by French officers that their losses on the first
day of battle were 150,000 casualties, and these figures were
generally believed. They were not so bad as that, though terrible.
Semi-official figures state that the operations which lasted from
April 16th to April 25th cost France 28,000 killed on the field of
battle, 5,000 who died of wounds in hospital, 4,000 prisoners, and
80,000 wounded. General Nivelle's offensive was called off, and French
officers who had said, "We shall break through. . . It is certain,"
now said: "We came up against a bec de gaz. As you English would say,
we 'got it in the neck.' It is a great misfortune."

The battle of Arras, in which the British army was engaged, began on
April 9th, an Easter Sunday, when there was a gale of sleet and snow.
From ground near the old city of Arras I saw the preliminary
bombardment when the Vimy Ridge was blasted by a hurricane of fire and
the German lines beyond Arras were tossed up in earth and flame. From
one of old Vauban's earthworks outside the walls I saw lines of our
men going up in assault beyond the suburbs of Blangy and St.-Laurent
to Roclincourt, through a veil of sleet and smoke. Our gun-fire was
immense and devastating, and the first blow that fell upon the enemy
was overpowering. The Vimy Ridge was captured from end to end by the
Canadians on the left and the 51st Division of Highlanders on the
right. By the afternoon the entire living German population, more than
seven thousand in the tunnels of Vimy, were down below in the valley
on our side of the lines, and on the ridge were many of their dead as
I saw them afterward horribly mangled by shell-fire in the upheaved
earth. The Highland Division, commanded by General Harper--"Uncle
Harper," he was called--had done as well as the Canadians, though they
had less honor, and took as many prisoners. H.D. was their divisional
sign as I saw it stenciled on many ruined walls throughout the war.
"Well, General," said a Scottish sergeant, "they don't call us
Harper's Duds any more!" . . . On the right English county troops of
the 12th Division, 3d Division, and others, the 15th (Scottish) and
the 36th (London) had broken through, deeply and widely, capturing
many men and guns after hard fighting round machine-gun redoubts. That
night masses of German prisoners suffered terribly from a blizzard in
the barbed-wire cages at Etrun, by Arras, where Julius Caesar had his
camp for a year in other days of history. They herded together with
their bodies bent to the storm, each man sheltering his fellow and
giving a little human warmth. All night through a German commandant
sat in our Intelligence hut with his head bowed on his breast. Every
now and then he said: "It is cold! It is cold!" And our men lay out in
the captured ground beyond Arras and on the Vimy Ridge, under
harassing fire and machine-gun fire, cold, too, in that wild blizzard,
with British dead and German dead in the mangled earth about them.

Ludendorff admits the severity of that defeat.

"The battle near Arras on April 9th formed a bad beginning to the
capital fighting during this year.

"April 10th and the succeeding days were critical days. A breach
twelve thousand to fifteen thousand yards wide and as much as six
thousand yards and more in depth is not a thing to be mended without
more ado. It takes a good deal to repair the inordinate wastage of men
and guns as well as munitions that results from such a breach. It was
the business of the Supreme Command to provide reserves on a large
scale. But in view of the troops available, and of the war situation,
it was simply not possible to hold a second division in readiness
behind each division that might, perhaps, be about to drop out. A day
like April 9th upset all calculations. It was a matter of days before
a new front could be formed and consolidated. Even after the troops
were ultimately in line the issue of the crisis depended, as always in
such cases, very materially upon whether the enemy followed up his
initial success with a fresh attack and by fresh successes made it
difficult for us to create a firm front. In view of the weakening of
the line that inevitably resulted, such successes were only too easy
to achieve.

"From April 10th onward the English attacked in the breach in great
strength, but after all not in the grand manner; they extended their
attack on both wings, especially to the southward as far as
Bullecourt. On April 11th they gained Monchy, while we during the
night before the 12th evacuated the Vimy heights. April 23d and 28th,
and also May 3d, were again days of heavy, pitched battle. In between
there was some bitter local fighting. The struggle continued, we
delivered minor successful counter-attacks, and on the other hand lost
ground slightly at various points."

I remember many pictures of that fighting round Arras in the days that
followed the first day. I remember the sinister beauty of the city
itself, when there was a surging traffic of men and guns through its
ruined streets in spite of long-range shells which came crashing into
the houses. Our soldiers, in their steel hats and goatskin coats,
looked like medieval men-at-arms. The Highlanders who crowded Arras
had their pipe-bands there and they played in the Petite Place, and
the skirl of the pipes shattered against the gables of old houses.
There were tunnels beneath Arras through which our men advanced to the
German lines, and I went along them when one line of men was going
into battle and another was coming back, wounded, some of them blind,
bloody, vomiting with the fumes of gas in their lungs--their steel
hats clinking as they groped past one another. In vaults each side of
these passages men played cards on barrels, to the light of candles
stuck in bottles, or slept until their turn to fight, with gas-masks
for their pillows. Outside the Citadel of Arras, built by Vauban under
Louis XIV, there were long queues of wounded men taking their turn to
the surgeons who were working in a deep crypt with a high-vaulted
roof. One day there were three thousand of them, silent, patient,
muddy, blood-stained. Blind boys or men with smashed faces swathed in
bloody rags groped forward to the dark passage leading to the vault,
led by comrades. On the grass outside lay men with leg wounds and
stomach wounds. The way past the station to the Arras-Cambrai road was
a death-trap for our transport and I saw the bodies of horses and men
horribly mangled there. Dead horses were thick on each side of an
avenue of trees on the southern side of the city, lying in their blood
and bowels. The traffic policeman on "point duty" on the Arras-Cambrai
road had an impassive face under his steel helmet, as though in
Piccadilly Circus; only turned his head a little at the scream of a
shell which plunged through the gable of a corner house above him.
There was a Pioneer battalion along the road out to Observatory Ridge,
which was a German target. They were mending the road beyond the last
trench, through which our men had smashed their way. They were busy
with bricks and shovels, only stopping to stare at shells plowing
holes in the fields on each side of them. When I came back one morning
a number of them lay covered with blankets, as though asleep. They
were dead, but their comrades worked on grimly, with no joy of labor
in their sweat.

Monchy Hill was the key position, high above the valley of the Scarpe.
I saw it first when there was a white village there, hardly touched by
fire, and afterward when there was no village. I was in the village
below Observatory Ridge on the morning of April 11th when cavalry was
massed on that ground, waiting for orders to go into action. The
headquarters of the cavalry division was in a ditch covered by planks,
and the cavalry generals and their staffs sat huddled together with
maps over their knees. "I am afraid the general is busy for the
moment," said a young staff-officer on top of the ditch. He looked
about the fields and said, "It's very unhealthy here." I agreed with
him. The bodies of many young soldiers lay about. Five-point-nines
(5.9's) were coming over in a haphazard way. It was no ground for
cavalry. But some squadrons of the 10th Hussars, Essex Yeomanry, and
the Blues were ordered to take Monchy, and rode up the hill in a
flurry of snow and were seen by German gunners and slashed by
shrapnel. Most of their horses were killed in the village or outside
it, and the men suffered many casualties, including their general--
Bulkely Johnson--whose body I saw carried back on a stretcher to the
ruin of Thilloy, where crumps were bursting. It is an astonishing
thing that two withered old French women stayed in the village all
through the fighting. When our troops rode in these women came running
forward, frightened and crying "Camarades!" as though in fear of the
enemy. When our men surrounded them they were full of joy and held up
their scraggy old faces to be kissed by these troopers. Afterward
Monchy was filled with a fury of shell-fire and the troopers crawled
out from the ruins, leaving the village on the hill to be attacked and
captured again by our infantry of the 15th and 37th Divisions, who
were also badly hammered.

Heroic folly! The cavalry in reserve below Observatory Hill stood to
their horses, staring up at a German airplane which came overhead,
careless of our "Archies." The eye of the German pilot must have
widened at the sight of that mass of men and horses. He carried back
glad tidings to the guns.

One of the cavalry officers spoke to me.

"You look ill."

"No, I'm all right. Only cold."

The officer himself looked worn and haggard after a night in the open.

"Do you think the Germans will get their range as far as this? I'm
nervous about the men and the horses. We've been here for hours, and
it seems no good."

I did not remind him that the airplane was undoubtedly the herald of
long-range shells. They came within a few minutes. Some men and horses
were killed. I was with a Highland officer and we took cover in a
ditch not more than breast high. Shells were bursting damnably close,
scattering us with dirt.

"Let's strike away from the road," said Major Schiach. "They always
tape it out."

We struck across country, back to Arras, glad to get there . . . other
men had to stay.

The battles to the east of Arras that went before the capture of
Monchy and followed it were hard, nagging actions along the valley of
the Scarpe, which formed a glacis, where our men were terribly exposed
to machine--gun fire, and suffered heavily day after day, week after
week, for no object apparent to our battalion officers and men, who
did not know that they were doing team-work for the French. The
Londoners of the 56th Division made a record advance through Neuville-
Vitasse to Henin and Heninel, and broke a switch-line of the
Hindenburg system across the little Cojeul River by Wancourt. There
was a fatal attack in the dark on May 3d, when East Kents and Surreys
and Londoners saw a gray dawn come, revealing the enemy between them
and our main line, and had to hack their way through if they could,
There were many who could not, and even divisional generals were
embittered by these needless losses and by the hard driving of their
men, saying fierce things about our High Command.

Their language was mild compared with that of some of our young
officers. I remember one I met near Henin. He was one of a group of
three, all gunner officers who were looking about for better gun
positions not so clearly visible to the enemy, who was in two little
woods--the Bois de Sart and Bois Vert--which stared down upon them
like green eyes. Some of their guns had been destroyed, many of their
horses killed; some of their men. A few minutes before our meeting a
shell had crashed into a bath close to their hut, where men were
washing themselves. The explosion filled the bath with blood and bits
of flesh. The younger officer stared at me under the tilt forward of
his steel hat and said, "Hullo, Gibbs!" I had played chess with him at
Groom's Cafe in Fleet Street in days before the war. I went back to
his hut and had tea with him, close to that bath, hoping that we
should not be cut up with the cake. There were noises "off," as they
say in stage directions, which were enormously disconcerting to one's
peace of mind, and not very far off. I had heard before some hard
words about our generalship and staff-work, but never anything so
passionate, so violent, as from that gunner officer. His view of the
business was summed up in the word "murder." He raged against the
impossible orders sent down from headquarters, against the brutality
with which men were left in the line week after week, and against the
monstrous, abominable futility of all our so-called strategy. His
nerves were in rags, as I could see by the way in which his hand shook
when he lighted one cigarette after another. His spirit was in a flame
of revolt against the misery of his sleeplessness, filth, and imminent
peril of death. Every shell that burst near Henin sent a shudder
through him. I stayed an hour in his hut, and then went away toward
Neuville-Vitasse with harassing fire following along the way. I looked
back many times to the valley, and to the ridges where the enemy lived
above it, invisible but deadly. The sun was setting and there was a
tawny glamour in the sky, and a mystical beauty over the landscape
despite the desert that war had made there, leaving only white ruins
and slaughtered trees where once there were good villages with church
spires rising out of sheltering woods. The German gunners were doing
their evening hate. Crumps were bursting heavily again amid our gun
positions.

Heninel was not a choice spot. There were other places of extreme
unhealthfulness where our men had fought their way up to the
Hindenburg line, or, as the Germans called it, the Siegfried line.
Croisille and Cherisy were targets of German guns, and I saw them
ravaging among the ruins, and dodged them. But our men, who lived
close to these places, stayed there too long to dodge them always.
They were inhabitants, not visitors. The Australians settled down in
front of Bullecourt, captured it after many desperate fights, which
left them with a bitter grudge against tanks which had failed them and
some English troops who were held up on the left while they went
forward and were slaughtered. The 4th Australian Division lost three
thousand men in an experimental attack directed by the Fifth Army.
They made their gun emplacements in the Noreuil Valley, the valley of
death as they called it, and Australian gunners made little slit
trenches and scuttled into them when the Germans ranged on their
batteries, blowing gun spokes and wheels and breech-blocks into the
air. Queant, the bastion of the Hindenburg line, stared straight down
the valley, and it was evil ground, as I knew when I went walking
there with another war correspondent and an Australian officer who at
a great pace led us round about, amid 5.9's, and debouched a little to
see one of our ammunition-dumps exploding like a Brock's Benefit, and
chattered brightly under "woolly bears" which made a rending tumult
above our heads. I think he enjoyed his afternoon out from staff-work
in the headquarters huts. Afterward I was told that he was mad, but I
think he was only brave. I hated those hours, but put on the mask that
royalty wears when it takes an intelligent interest in factory-work.

The streams of wounded poured down into the casualty clearing stations
day by day, week by week, and I saw the crowded Butchers' Shops of
war, where busy surgeons lopped at limbs and plugged men's wounds.

Yet in those days, as before and afterward, as at the beginning and as
at the end, the spirits of British soldiers kept high unless their
bodies were laid low. Between battles they enjoyed their spells of
rest behind the lines. In that early summer of '17 there was laughter
in Arras, lots of fun in spite of high velocities, the music of massed
pipers and brass bands, jolly comradeship in billets with paneled
walls upon which perhaps Robespierre's shadow had fallen in the
candle-light before the Revolution, when he was the good young man of
Arras.

As a guest of the Gordons, of the 15th Division, I listened to the
pipers who marched round the table and stood behind the colonel's
chair and mine, and played the martial music of Scotland, until
something seemed to break in my soul and my ear-drums. I introduced a
French friend to the mess, and as a guest of honor he sat next to the
colonel, and the eight pipers played behind his chair. He went pale,
deadly white, and presently swooned off his chair . . .  and the
Gordons thought it the finest tribute to their pipes!

The officers danced reels in stocking feet with challenging cries,
Gaelic exhortations, with fine grace and passion, though they were
tangled sometimes in the maze . . .  many of them fell in the fields
outside or in the bogs of Flanders.

On the western side of Arras there were field sports by London men,
and Surreys, Buffs, Sussex, Norfolks, Suffolks, and Devons. They
played cricket between their turns in the line, lived in the sunshine
of the day, and did not look forward to the morrow. At such times one
found no trace of war's agony in their faces or their eyes nor in the
quality of their laughter.

My dwelling-place at that time, with other war correspondents, was in
an old white chateau between St.-Pol and Hesdin, from which we motored
out to the line, Arras way or Vimy way, for those walks in Queer
Street. The contrast of our retreat with that Armageddon beyond was
profound and bewildering. Behind the old white house were winding
walks through little woods beside the stream which Henry crossed on
his way to Agincourt; tapestried in early spring with bluebells and
daffodils and all the flowers that Ronsard wove into his verse in the
springtime of France. Birds sang their love-songs in the thickets. The
tits twittered fearfully at the laugh of the jay. All that beauty was
like a sharp pain at one's heart after hearing the close tumult of the
guns and trudging over the blasted fields of war, in the routine of
our task, week by week, month by month.

"This makes for madness," said a friend of mine, a musician surprised
to find himself a soldier. "In the morning we see boys with their
heads blown off"--that morning beyond the Point du Jour and Thelus we
had passed a group of headless boys, and another coming up stared at
them with a silly smile and said, "They've copped it all right!" and
went on to the same risk; and we had crouched below mounds of earth
when shells had scattered dirt over us and scared us horribly, so that
we felt a little sick in the stomach--"and in the afternoon we walk
through this garden where the birds are singing. . .  There is no
sense in it. It's just midsummer madness!"

But only one of us went really mad and tried to cut his throat, and
died. One of the best, as I knew him at his best.




IV


The battles of the Third Army beyond Arras petered out and on June 7th
there was the battle of Messines and Wytschaete when the Second Army
revealed its mastery of organization and detail. It was the beginning
of a vastly ambitious scheme to capture the whole line of ridges
through Flanders, of which this was the southern hook, and then to
liberate the Belgian coast as far inland as Bruges by a combined sea-
and-land attack with shoregoing tanks, directed by the Fourth Army.
This first blow at the Messines Ridge was completely and wonderfully
successful, due to the explosion of seventeen enormous mines under the
German positions, followed by an attack "in depth," divisions passing
through each other, or "leap-frogging," as it was called, to the final
objectives against an enemy demoralized by the earthquake of the
explosions.

For two years there had been fierce underground fighting at Hill 60
and elsewhere, when our tunnelers saw the Germans had listened to one
another's workings, racing to strike through first to their enemies'
galleries and touch off their high-explosive charges. Our miners,
aided by the magnificent work of Australian and Canadian tunnelers,
had beaten the enemy into sheer terror of their method of fighting and
they had abandoned it, believing that we had also. But we did not, as
they found to their cost.

I had seen the working of the tunnelers up by Hill 70 and elsewhere. I
had gone into the darkness of the tunnels, crouching low, striking my
steel hat with sharp, spine-jarring knocks against the low beams
overhead, coming into galleries where one could stand upright and walk
at ease in electric light, hearing the vibrant hum of great engines,
the murmur of men's voices in dark crypts, seeing numbers of men
sleeping on bunks in the gloom of caverns close beneath the German
lines, and listening through a queer little instrument called a
microphone, by which I heard the scuffle of German feet in German
galleries a thousand yards away, the dropping of a pick or shovel, the
knocking out of German pipes against charcoal stoves. It was by that
listening instrument, more perfect than the enemy's, that we had
beaten him, and by the grim determination of those underground men of
ours, whose skin was the color of the chalk in which they worked, who
coughed in the dampness of the caves, and who packed high explosives
at the shaft-heads--hundreds of tons of it--for the moment when a
button should be touched far away, and an electric current would pass
down a wire, and the enemy and his works would be blown into dust.

That moment came at Hill 60 and sixteen other places below the
Wytschaete and Messines Ridge at three-thirty on the morning of June
7th, after a quiet night of war, when a few of our batteries had fired
in a desultory way and the enemy had sent over some flocks of gas-
shells, and before the dawn I heard the cocks crow on Kemmel Hill. I
saw the seventeen mines go up, and earth and flame gush out of them as
though the fires of hell had risen. A terrible sight, as the work of
men against their fellow--creatures. . .  It was the signal for seven
hundred and fifty of our heavy guns and two thousand of our field--
guns to open fire, and behind a moving wall of bursting shells
English, Irish, and New Zealand soldiers moved forward in dense waves.
It was almost a "walk-over." Only here and there groups of Germans
served their machine-guns to the death. Most of the living were
stupefied amid their dead in the upheaved trenches, slashed woods, and
deepest dugouts. I walked to the edge of the mine-craters and stared
into their great gulfs, wondering how many German bodies had been
engulfed there. The following day I walked through Wytschaete Wood to
the ruins of the Hospice on the ridge. In 1914 some of our cavalry had
passed this way when the Hospice was a big red-brick building with
wings and outhouses and a large community of nuns and children.
Through my glasses I had often seen its ruins from Kemmel Hill and the
Scherpenberg. Now nothing was left but a pile of broken bricks, not
very high. Our losses were comparatively small, though some brave men
had died, including Major Willie Redmond, whose death in Wytschaete
Wood was heard with grief in Ireland.

Ludendorff admits the severity of the blow:

"The moral effect of the explosions was simply staggering. . .  The
7th of June cost us dear, and, owing to the success of the enemy
attack, the price we paid was very heavy. Here, too, it was many days
before the front was again secure. The British army did not press its
advantage; apparently it only intended to improve its position for the
launching of the great Flanders offensive. It thereupon resumed
operations between the old Arras battlefield and also between La
Bassee and Lens. The object of the enemy was to wear us down and
distract our attention from Ypres."

That was true. The Canadians made heavy attacks at Lens, some of which
I saw from ground beyond Notre Dame de Lorette and the Vimy Ridge and
the enemy country by Grenay, when those men besieged a long chain of
mining villages which girdled Lens itself, where every house was a
machine-gun fort above deep tunnels. I saw them after desperate
struggles, covered in clay, parched with thirst, gassed, wounded, but
indomitable. Lens was the Troy of the Canadian Corps and the English
troops of the First Army, and it was only owing to other battles they
were called upon to fight in Flanders that they had to leave it at
last uncaptured, for the enemy to escape.

All this was subsidiary to the great offensive in Flanders, with its
ambitious objects. But when the battles of Flanders began the year was
getting past its middle age, and events on other fronts had upset the
strategical plan of Sir Douglas Haig and our High Command. The failure
and abandonment of the Nivelle offensive in the Champagne were
disastrous to us. It liberated many German divisions who could be sent
up to relieve exhausted divisions in Flanders. Instead of attacking
the enemy when he was weakening under assaults elsewhere, we attacked
him when all was quiet on the French front. The collapse of Russia was
now happening and our policy ought to have been to save men for the
tremendous moment of 1918, when we should need all our strength. So it
seems certain now, though it is easy to prophesy after the event.

I went along the coast as far as Coxyde and Nieuport and saw secret
preparations for the coast offensive. We were building enormous gun
emplacements at Malo-les--Bains for long-range naval guns, camouflaged
in sand--dunes. Our men were being trained for fighting in the dunes.
Our artillery positions were mapped out.

"Three shots to one, sir," said Sir Henry Rawlinson to the King,
"that's the stuff to give them!"

But the Germans struck the first blow up there, not of importance to
the strategical position, but ghastly to two battalions of the 1st
Division, cut off on a spit of land at Lombartzyde and almost
annihilated under a fury of fire.

At this time the enemy was developing his use of a new poison-gas--
mustard gas--which raised blisters and burned men's bodies where the
vapor was condensed into a reddish powder and blinded them for a week
or more, if not forever, and turned their lungs to water. I saw
hundreds of these cases in the 3rd Canadian casualty clearing station
on the coast, and there were thousands all along our front. At Oast
Dunkerque, near Nieuport, I had a whiff of it, and was conscious of a
burning sensation about the lips and eyelids, and for a week afterward
vomited at times, and was scared by queer flutterings of the heart
which at night seemed to have but a feeble beat. It was enough to "put
the wind up." Our men dreaded the new danger, so mysterious, so
stealthy in its approach. It was one of the new plagues of war.




V


The battle of Flanders began round Ypres on July 31st, with a greater
intensity of artillery on our side than had ever been seen before in
this war in spite of the Somme and Messines, when on big days of
battle two thousand guns opened fire on a single corps front. The
enemy was strong also in artillery arranged in great groups, often
shifting to enfilade our lines of attack. The natural strength of his
position along the ridges, which were like a great bony hand
outstretched through Flanders, with streams or "beeks," as they are
called, flowing in the valleys which ran between the fingers of that
clawlike range, were strengthened by chains of little concrete forts
or "pill-boxes," as our soldiers called them, so arranged that they
could defend one another by enfilade machine-gun fire. These were held
by garrisons of machine--gunners of proved resolution, whose duty was
to break up our waves of attack until, even if successful in gaining
ground, only small bodies of survivors would be in a position to
resist the counter-attacks launched by German divisions farther back.
The strength of the pill--boxes made of concrete two inches thick
resisted everything but the direct hit of heavy shells, and they were
not easy targets at long range. The garrisons within them fought often
with the utmost courage, even when surrounded, and again and again
this method of defense proved terribly effective against the desperate
heroic assaults of British infantry.

What our men had suffered in earlier battles was surpassed by what
they were now called upon to endure. All the agonies of war which I
have attempted to describe were piled up in those fields of Flanders.
There was nothing missing in the list of war's abominations. A few
days after the battle began the rains began, and hardly ceased for
four months. Night after night the skies opened and let down steady
torrents, which turned all that country into one great bog of slime.
Those little rivers or "beeks," which ran between the knobby fingers
of the clawlike range of ridges, were blown out of their channels and
slopped over into broad swamps. The hurricanes of artillery fire which
our gunners poured upon the enemy positions for twenty miles in depth
churned up deep shell-craters which intermingled and made pits which
the rains and floods filled to the brim. The only way of walking was
by "duck-boards," tracks laid down across the bogs under enemy fire,
smashed up day by day, laid down again under cover of darkness. Along
a duckboard walk men must march in single file, and if one of our men,
heavily laden in his fighting-kit, stumbled on those greasy boards (as
all of them stumbled at every few yards) and fell off, he sank up to
his knees, often up to his waist, sometimes up to his neck, in mud and
water. If he were wounded when he fell, and darkness was about him, he
could only cry to God or his pals, for he was helpless otherwise. One
of our divisions of Lancashire men--the 66th--took eleven hours in
making three miles or so out of Ypres across that ground on their way
to attack, and then, in spite of their exhaustion, attacked. Yet week
after week, month after month, our masses of men, almost every
division in the British army at one time or another, struggled on
through that Slough of Despond, capturing ridge after ridge, until the
heights at Passchendaele were stormed and won, though even then the
Germans clung to Staden and Westroosebeeke when all our efforts came
to a dead halt, and that Belgian coast attack was never launched.

Sir Douglas Haig thinks that some of the descriptions of that six
months' horror were "exaggerated." As a man who knows something of the
value of words, and who saw many of those battle scenes in Flanders,
and went out from Ypres many times during those months to the Westhoek
Ridge and the Pilkem Ridge, to the Frezenburg and Inverness Copse and
Glencourse Wood, and beyond to Polygon Wood and Passchendaele, where
his dead lay in the swamps and round the pill-boxes, and where tanks
that had wallowed into the mire were shot into scrap-iron by German
gun-fire (thirty were knocked out by direct hits on the first day of
battle), and where our own guns were being flung up by the harassing
fire of heavy shells, I say now that nothing that has been written is
more than the pale image of the abomination of those battlefields, and
that no pen or brush has yet achieved the picture of that Armageddon
in which so many of our men perished.

They were months of ghastly endurance to gunners when batteries sank
up to their axles as I saw them often while they fired almost
unceasingly for days and nights without sleep, and were living targets
of shells which burst about them. They were months of battle in which
our men advanced through slime into slime, under the slash of machine-
gun bullets, shrapnel, and high explosives, wet to the skin, chilled
to the bone, plastered up to the eyes in mud, with a dreadful way back
for walking wounded, and but little chance sometimes for wounded who
could not walk. The losses in many of these battles amounted almost to
annihilation to many battalions, and whole divisions lost as much as
50 per cent of their strength after a few days in action, before they
were "relieved." Those were dreadful losses. Napoleon said that no
body of men could lose more than 25 per cent of their fighting
strength in an action without being broken in spirit. Our men lost
double that, and more than double, but kept their courage, though in
some cases they lost their hope.

The 55th Division of Lancashire men, in their attacks on a line of
pill-boxes called Plum Farm, Schuler Farm, and Square Farm, below the
Gravenstafel Spur, lost 3,840 men in casualties out of 6,o49. Those
were not uncommon losses. They were usual losses. One day's fighting
in Flanders (on October 4th) cost the British army ten thousand
casualties, and they were considered "light" by the Higher Command in
relation to the objects achieved.

General Harper of the 51st (Highland) Division told me that in his
opinion the official communiques and the war correspondents' articles
gave only one side of the picture of war and were too glowing in their
optimism. (I did not tell him that my articles were accused of being
black in pessimism, pervading gloom.) "We tell the public," he said,
"that an enemy division has been 'shattered.' That is true. But so is
mine. One of my brigades has lost eighty-seven officers and two
thousand men since the spring." He protested that there was not enough
liaison between the fighting-officers and the Higher Command, and
could not blame them for their hatred of "the Staff."

The story of the two Irish divisions--the 36th Ulster; and 16th
(Nationalist)--in their fighting on August 16th is black in tragedy.
They were left in the line for sixteen days before the battle and were
shelled and gassed incessantly as they crouched in wet ditches. Every
day groups of men were blown to bits, until the ditches were bloody
and the living lay by the corpses of their comrades. Every day scores
of wounded crawled back through the bogs, if they had the strength to
crawl. Before the attack on August 16th the Ulster Division had lost
nearly two thousand men. Then they attacked and lost two thousand
more, and over one hundred officers. The 16th Division lost as many
men before the attack and more officers. The 8th Dublins had been
annihilated in holding the line. On the night before the battle
hundreds of men were gassed. Then their comrades attacked and lost
over two thousand more, and one hundred and sixty--two officers. All
the ground below two knolls of earth called Hill 35 and Hill 37, which
were defended by German pill-boxes called Pond Farm and Gallipoli,
Beck House and Borry Farm, became an Irish shambles. In spite of their
dreadful losses the survivors in the Irish battalion went forward to
the assault with desperate valor on the morning of August 16th,
surrounded the pill-boxes, stormed them through blasts of machine-gun
fire, and toward the end of the day small bodies of these men had
gained a footing on the objectives which they had been asked to
capture, but were then too weak to resist German counter-attacks. The
7th and 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers had been almost exterminated in
their efforts to dislodge the enemy from Hill 37. They lost seventeen
officers out of twenty-one, and 64 per cent of their men. One company
of four officers and one hundred men, ordered to capture the concrete
fort known as Borry Farm, at all cost, lost four officers and seventy
men. The 9th Dublins lost fifteen officers out of seventeen, and 66
per cent of their men.

The two Irish divisions were broken to bits, and their brigadiers
called it murder. They were violent in their denunciation of the Fifth
Army for having put their men into the attack after those thirteen
days of heavy shelling, and after the battle they complained that they
were cast aside like old shoes, no care being taken for the comfort of
the men who had survived. No motor-lorries were sent to meet them and
bring them down, but they had to tramp back, exhausted and dazed. The
remnants of the 16th Division, the poor, despairing remnants, were
sent, without rest or baths, straight into the line again, down south.

I found a general opinion among officers and men, not only of the
Irish Division, under the command of the Fifth Army, that they had
been the victims of atrocious staff-work, tragic in its consequences.
From what I saw of some of the Fifth Army staff-officers I was of the
same opinion. Some of these young gentlemen, and some of the elderly
officers, were arrogant and supercilious without revealing any
symptoms of intelligence. If they had wisdom it was deeply camouflaged
by an air of inefficiency. If they had knowledge they hid it as a
secret of their own. General Gough, commanding the Fifth Army in
Flanders, and afterward north and south of St.-Quentin, where the
enemy broke through, was extremely courteous, of most amiable
character, with a high sense of duty. But in Flanders, if not
personally responsible for many tragic happenings, he was badly served
by some of his subordinates; and battalion officers and divisional
staffs raged against the whole of the Fifth Army organization, or lack
of organization, with an extreme passion of speech.

"You must be glad to leave Flanders," I said to a group of officers
trekking toward the Cambrai salient.

One of them answered, violently: "God be thanked we are leaving the
Fifth Army area!"

In an earlier chapter of this book I have already paid a tribute to
the Second Army, and especially to Sir John Harington, its chief of
staff. There was a thoroughness of method, a minute attention to
detail, a care for the comfort and spirit of the men throughout the
Second Army staff which did at least inspire the troops with the
belief that whatever they did in the fighting-lines had been prepared,
and would be supported, with every possible help that organization
could provide. That belief was founded not upon fine words spoken on
parade, but by strenuous work, a driving zeal, and the fine
intelligence of a chief of staff whose brain was like a high-power
engine.

I remember a historic little scene in the Second Army headquarters at
Cassel, in a room where many of the great battles had been planned,
when Sir John Harington made the dramatic announcement that Sir
Herbert Plumer, and he, as General Plumer's chief of staff, had been
ordered to Italy--in the middle of a battle--to report on the
situation which had become so grave there. He expressed his regret
that he should have to leave Flanders without completing all his
plans, but was glad that Passchendaele had been captured before his
going.

In front of him was the map of the great range from Wytschaete to
Staden, and he laid his hand upon it and smiled and said: "I often
used to think how much of that range we should get this year. Now it
is nearly all ours." He thanked the war correspondents for all their
articles, which had been very helpful to the army, and said how glad
he had been to have our co-operation.

"It was my ambition," he said, speaking with some emotion, "to make
cordial relations between battalion officers and the staff, and to get
rid of that criticism (sometimes just) which has been directed against
the staff. The Second Army has been able to show the fighting soldiers
that the success of a battle depends greatly on efficient staff work,
and has inspired them with confidence in the preparations and
organization behind the lines."

Yet it seemed to me, in my pessimism, and seems to me still, in my
memory of all that ghastly fighting, that the fine mechanism of the
Second Army applied to those battles in Flanders was utterly misspent,
that after the first heavy rains had fallen the offensive ought to
have been abandoned, and that it was a frightful error of judgment to
ask masses of men to attack in conditions where they had not a dog's
chance of victory, except at a cost which made it of Pyrrhic irony.

Nevertheless, it was wearing the enemy out, as well as our own
strength in man-power. He could less afford to lose his one man than
we could our three, now that the United States had entered the war.
Ludendorff has described the German agony, and days of battle which he
calls "terrific," inflicting "enormous loss" upon his armies and
increasing his anxiety at the "reduction of our fighting strength."

"Enormous masses of ammunition, the like of which no mortal mind
before the war had conceived, were hurled against human beings who
lay, eking out but a bare existence, scattered in shell-holes that
were deep in slime. The terror of it surpassed even that of the shell-
pitted field before Verdun. This was not life; it was agony
unspeakable. And out of the universe of slime the attacker wallowed
forward, slowly but continually, and in dense masses. Time and again
the enemy, struck by the hail of our projectiles in the fore field,
collapsed, and our lonely men in the shell-holes breathed again. Then
the mass came on. Rifle and machine-gun were beslimed. The struggle
was man to man, and--only too often--it was the mass that won.

"What the German soldier accomplished, lived through, and suffered
during the Flanders battle will stand in his honor for all time as a
brazen monument that he set himself with his own hands on enemy soil!

"The enemy's losses, too, were heavy. When, in the spring of 1918, we
occupied the battlefield, it presented a horrible spectacle with its
many unburied dead. Their number ran into thousands. Two-thirds of
them were enemy dead; one-third were German soldiers who had met here
a hero's death.

"And yet the truth must be told; individual units no longer surmounted
as before the demoralizing influences of the defensive campaign.

"October 26th and 30th and November 6th and 10th were also days of
pitched battle of the heaviest kind. The enemy stormed like a wild
bull against the iron wall that kept him at a distance from our U-boat
base. He hurled his weight against the Houthulst Wood; he hurled it
against Poelcapelle, Passchendaele, Becelaere, Gheluvelt, and
Zandvoorde; at very many points he dented the line. It seemed as if he
would charge down the wall; but, although a slight tremor passed
through its foundation, the wall held. The impressions that I
continued to receive were extremely grave. Tactically everything had
been done; the fore field was good. Our artillery practice had
materially improved. Behind nearly every fighting--division there
stood a second, as rear wave. In the third line, too, there were still
reserves. We knew that the wear and tear of the enemy's forces was
high. But we also knew that the enemy was extraordinarily strong and,
what was equally important, possessed extraordinary will-power."

That was the impression of the cold brain directing the machinery of
war from German headquarters. More human and more tragic is a letter
of an unknown German officer which we found among hundreds of others,
telling the same tale, in the mud of the battlefield:

"If it were not for the men who have been spared me on this fierce day
and are lying around me, and looking timidly at me, I should shed hot
and bitter tears over the terrors that have menaced me during these
hours. On the morning of September 18th my dugout containing seventeen
men was shot to pieces over our heads. I am the only one who withstood
the maddening bombardment of three days and still survives. You cannot
imagine the frightful mental torments I have undergone in those few
hours. After crawling out through the bleeding remnants of my
comrades, and through the smoke and debris, wandering and running in
the midst of the raging gun-fire in search of a refuge, I am now
awaiting death at any moment. You do not know what Flanders means.
Flanders means endless human endurance. Flanders means blood and
scraps of human bodies. Flanders means heroic courage and faithfulness
even unto death."

To British and to Germans it meant the same.




VI


During the four and a half months of that fighting the war
correspondents were billeted in the old town of Cassel, where, perched
on a hill which looks over a wide stretch of Flanders, through our
glasses we could see the sand-dunes beyond Dunkirk and with the naked
eyes the whole vista of the battle-line round Ypres and in the wide
curve all the countryside lying between Aire and Hazebrouck and Notre
Dame de Lorette. My billet was in a monastery for old priests, on the
eastern edge of the town, and at night my window was lighted by
distant shell-fire, and I gazed out to a sky of darkness rent by vivid
flashes, bursts of red flame, and rockets rising high. The priests
used to tap at my door when I came back from the battlefields all
muddy, with a slime-plastered face, writing furiously, and an old
padre used to plague me like that, saying:

"What news? It goes well, eh? Not too well, perhaps! Alas! it is a
slaughter on both sides."

"It is all your fault," I said once, chaffingly, to get rid of him.
"You do not pray enough."

He grasped my wrist with his skinny old hand.

"Monsieur," he whispered, "after eighty years I nearly lose my faith
in God. That is terrible, is it not? Why does not God give us victory?
Alas! perhaps we have sinned too much!"

One needed great faith for courage then, and my courage (never much to
boast about) ebbed low those days, when I agonized over our losses and
saw the suffering of our men and those foul swamps where the bodies of
our boys lay in pools of slime, vividly colored by the metallic vapors
of high explosives, beside the gashed tree-stumps; and the mangled
corpses of Germans who had died outside their pill-boxes; and when I
saw dead horses on the roads out of Ypres, and transport drivers dead
beside their broken wagons, and officers of ours with the look of
doomed men, nerve-shaken, soul-stricken, in captured blockhouses,
where I took a nip of whisky with them now and then before they
attacked again; and groups of dazed prisoners coming down the tracks
through their own harrowing fire; and always, always, streams of
wounded by tens of thousands.

There was an old mill-house near Vlamertinghe, beyond Goldfish
Chateau, which was made into a casualty clearing station, and scores
of times when I passed it I saw it crowded with the "walking wounded,"
who had trudged down from the fighting-line, taking eleven hours,
fourteen hours sometimes, to get so far. They were no longer
"cheerful" like the gay lads who came lightly wounded out of earlier
battles, glad of life, excited by their luck. They were silent,
shivering, stricken men; boys in age, but old and weary in the
knowledge of war. The slime of the battlefields had engulfed them.
Their clothes were plastered to their bodies. Their faces and hands
were coated with that whitish clay. Their steel hats and rifles were
caked with it. Their eyes, brooding, were strangely alive in those
corpselike figures of mud who huddled round charcoal stoves or sat
motionless on wooden forms, waiting for ambulances. Yet they were
stark in spirit still.

"Only the mud beat us," they said. Man after man said that.

"We should have gone much farther except for the mud."

Along the Menin road there were wayside dressing stations for wounded,
with surgeons at work, and I saw the same scenes there. They were not
beyond the danger zone. Doctors and orderlies were killed by long-
range shells. Wounded were wounded again or finished off. Some
ambulances were blown to bits. A colonel who had been standing in talk
with a doctor was killed halfway through a sentence.

There was never a day in which Ypres was not shelled by long-range
high velocities which came howling overhead as I heard them scores of
times in passing through those ruins with gas-mask at the alert,
according to orders, and steel hat strapped on, and a deadly sense of
nostalgia because of what was happening in the fields of horror that
lay beyond. Yet to the soldier farther up the Menin road Ypres was
sanctuary and God's heaven.

The little old town of Cassel on the hill--where once a Duke of York
marched up and then marched down again--was beyond shell-range, though
the enemy tried to reach it and dropped twelve-inch shells (which make
holes deep enough to bury a coach and horses) round its base. There is
an inn there--the Hotel du Sauvage--which belongs now to English
history, and Scottish and Irish and Welsh and Australian and Canadian.
It was the last place along the road to Ypres where men who loved life
could get a dinner sitting with their knees below a table-cloth, with
candle-light glinting in glasses, while outside the windows the
flickering fires of death told them how short might be their tarrying
in the good places of the world. This was a good place where the
blinds were pulled down by Madame, who understood. Behind the desk was
Mademoiselle Suzanne, "a dainty rogue in porcelain," with wonderfully
bright eyes and just a little greeting of a smile for any young
officer who looked her way trying to get that greeting, because it was
ever so long since he had seen a pretty face and might be ever so long
again. Sometimes it was a smile met in the mirror against the wall, to
which Suzanne looked to touch her curls and see, like the Lady of
Shalott, the pictures of life that passed. A man would tilt his chair
to get that angle of vision. Outside, on these nights of war, it was
often blusterous, very dark, wet with heavy rain. The door opened, and
other officers came in with waterproofs sagging round their legs and
top-boots muddy to the tags, abashed because they made pools of water
on polished boards.

"Pardon, Madame."

"Ca ne fait rien, Monsieur."

There was a klip-klop of horses' hoofs in the yard. I thought of
D'Artagnan and the Musketeers who might have ridden into this very
yard, strode into this very room, on their way to Dunkirk or Calais.
Madame played the piano remarkably well, classical music of all kinds,
and any accompaniment to any song. Our young officers sang. Some of
them touched the piano with a loving touch and said, "Ye gods, a piano
again!" and played old melodies or merry ragtime. Before Passchendaele
was taken a Canadian boy brought a fiddle with him, and played last of
all, after other tunes, "The Long, Long Trail," which his comrades
sang.

"Come and play to us again," said Madame.

"If I come back," said the boy.

He did not come back along the road through Ypres to Cassel.

From the balcony one could see the nightbirds fly. On every moonlight
night German raiders were about bombing our camps and villages. One
could see just below the hill how the bombs crashed into St.-Marie
Capelle and many hamlets where British soldiers lay, and where
peasants and children were killed with them. For some strange reason
Cassel itself was never bombed.

"We are a nest of spies," said some of the inhabitants, but others had
faith in a miraculous statue, and still others in Sir Herbert Plumer.

Once when a big shell burst very close I looked at Mademoiselle
Suzanne behind the desk. She did not show fear by the flicker of an
eyelid, though officers in the room were startled.

"Vous n'avez pas peur, meme de la mort?" ("You are not afraid, even of
death?") I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Je m'en fiche de la mort!" ("I don't care a damn for death!")

The Hotel du Sauvage was a pleasant rendezvous, but barred for a time
to young gentlemen of the air force, who lingered too long there
sometimes and were noisy. It was barred to all officers for certain
hours of the day without special permits from the A.P.M., who made
trouble in granting them. Three Scottish officers rode down into
Cassel. They had ridden down from hell-fire to sit at a table covered
with a table-cloth, and drink tea in a room again. They were refused
permission, and their language to me about the A.P.M. was unprintable.
They desired his blood and bones. They raised their hands to heaven to
send down wrath upon all skunks dwelling behind the lines in luxury
and denying any kind of comfort to fighting-men. They included the
P.M. in their rage, and all staff-officers from Cassel to Boulogne,
and away back to Whitehall.

To cheer up the war correspondents' mess when we assembled at night
after miserable days, and when in the darkness gusts of wind and rain
clouted the window-panes and distant gun-fire rumbled, or bombs were
falling in near villages, telling of peasant girls killed in their
beds and soldiers mangled in wayside burns, we had the company
sometimes of an officer (a black-eyed fellow) who told merry little
tales of executions and prison happenings at which he assisted in the
course of his duty.

I remember one about a young officer sentenced to death for cowardice
(there were quite a number of lads like that). He was blindfolded by a
gas-mask fixed on the wrong way round, and pinioned, and tied to a
post. The firing--party lost their nerve and their shots were wild.
The boy was only wounded, and screamed in his mask, and the A.P.M. had
to shoot him twice with his revolver before he died.

That was only one of many little anecdotes told by a gentleman who
seemed to like his job and to enjoy these reminiscences.

The battles of Flanders ended with the capture of Passchendaele by the
Canadians, and that year's fighting on the western front cost us
800,000 casualties, and though we had dealt the enemy heavy blows from
which he reeled back, the drain upon our man-power was too great for
what was to happen next year, and our men were too sorely tried. For
the first time the British army lost its spirit of optimism, and there
was a sense of deadly depression among many officers and men with whom
I came in touch. They saw no ending of the war, and nothing except
continuous slaughter, such as that in Flanders.

Our men were not mythical heroes exalted by the gods above the
limitations of nature. They were human beings, with wives and
children, or mothers and sisters, whom they desired to see again. They
hated this war. Death had no allurement for them, except now and then
as an escape from intolerable life under fire. They would have been
superhuman if they had not revolted in spirit, though still faithful
to discipline, against the foul conditions of warfare in the swamps,
where, in spite of all they had, in that four months or so of
fighting, achieved the greatest effort of human courage and endurance
ever done by masses of men in obedience to command.




VII


At the end of those battles happened that surprising, audacious
adventure in the Cambrai salient organized by the Third Army under
General Byng, when on November 20, 1917, squadrons of tanks broke
through the Hindenburg line, and infantry streamed through the breach,
captured hundreds of guns, ten thousand prisoners, many villages and
ridges, and gave a monstrous shock to the German High Command.

The audacity of the adventure lay in the poverty of manpower with
which it was attempted and supported. The divisions engaged had all
been through the grinding mill of Flanders and were tired men. The
artillery was made up largely of those batteries which had been axle--
deep in Flanders mud. It was clearly understood by General Byng and
Gen. Louis Vaughan, his chief of staff, that Sir Douglas Haig could
not afford to give them strong reserves to exploit any success they
might gain by surprise or to defend the captured ground against
certain counter-attacks. It was to be a surprise assault by tanks and
infantry, with the hope that the cavalry corps might find its gap at
last and sweep round Cambrai before the enemy could recover and
reorganize. With other correspondents I saw Gen. Louis Vaughan, who
expounded the scheme before it was launched. That charming man, with
his professional manner, sweetness of speech, gentleness of voice and
gesture, like an Oxford don analyzing the war correspondence of
Xenophon, made no secret of the economy with which the operation would
have to be made.

"We must cut our coat according to our cloth," he said.

The whole idea was to seize only as much ground as the initial success
could gain, and not to press if resistance became strong. It was a
gamble, with a chance of luck. The cavalry might do nothing, or score
a big triumph. All depended on the surprise of the tanks. If they were
discovered before the assault the whole adventure would fail at the
start.

They had been brought up secretly by night, four hundred of them, with
supply-tanks for ammunition and petrol lying hidden in woods by day.
So the artillery and infantry and cavalry had been concentrated also.
The enemy believed himself secure in his Hindenburg line, which had
been constructed behind broad hedges of barbed wire with such wide
ditches that no tank could cross.

How, then, would tanks cross? Ah, that was a little trick which would
surprise the Germans mightily. Each tank would advance through the
early morning mists with a bridge on its nose. The bridge was really a
big "fascine," or bundle of fagots about a yard and a half in
diameter, and controlled by a lever and chain from the interior of the
tank. Having plowed through the barbed wire and reached the edge of
the Hindenburg trench, the tank would drop the fascine into the center
of the ditch, stretch out its long body, reach the bundle of fagots,
find support on it, and use it as a stepping-stone to the other side.
Very simple in idea and effect!

So it happened, and the mists favored us, as I saw on the morning of
the attack at a little place called Beaumont, near Villers Pluich. The
enemy was completely surprised, caught at breakfast in his dugouts,
rounded up in batches. The tanks went away through the breach they had
made, with the infantry swarming round them, and captured Havrincourt,
Hermies, Ribecourt, Gouzeaucourt, Masnieres, and Marcoing, and a wide
stretch of country forming a cup or amphitheater below a series of low
ridges south of Bourlon Wood, where the ground rose again.

It was a spectacular battle, such as we had never seen before, and
during the following days, when our troops worked up to Bourlon Wood
and through the intervening villages of Anneux, Graincourt, Containg,
and Fontaine Notre Dame, I saw tanks going into action and cruising
about like landships, with cavalry patrols riding over open ground,
airplanes flying low over German territory, and masses of infantry
beyond all trench-lines, and streams of liberated civilians trudging
through the lines from Marcoing. The enemy was demoralized the first
day and made only slight resistance. The chief losses of the tanks
were due to a German major of artillery who served his own guns and
knocked out a baker's dozen of these monsters as they crawled over the
Flesquieres Ridge. I saw them lying there with the blood and bones of
their pilots and crews within their steel walls. It was a Highland
soldier who checked the German major.

"You're a brave man," he said, "but you've got to dee," and ran him
through the stomach with his bayonet. It was this check at the
Flesquieres Ridge, followed by the breaking of a bridge at Masnieres
under the weight of a tank and the holding of a trench-line called the
Rumilly switch by a battalion of Germans who raced to it from Cambrai
before our men could capture it, which thwarted the plans of the
cavalry. Our cavalry generals were in consultation at their
headquarters, too far back to take immediate advantage of the
situation. They waited for the capture of the Rumilly switch, and held
up masses of cavalry whom I saw riding through the village of
Ribecourt, with excitement and exaltation, because they thought that
at last their chance had come. Finally orders were given to cancel all
previous plans to advance. Only one squadron, belonging to the
Canadian Fort Garry Horse in General Seely's division, failed to
receive the order (their colonel rode after them, but his horse
slipped and fell before he caught them up), and it was their day of
heroic folly. They rode fast and made their way through a gap in the
wire cut by the troopers, and came under rifle and machine-gun fire,
which wounded the captain and several men.

The command was carried on by a young lieutenant, who rode with his
men until they reached the camouflaged road southeast of the village
of Rumilly, where they went through in sections under the fire of the
enemy hidden in the banks. Here they came up against a battery of
field-guns, one of which fired point-blank at them. They charged the
battery, putting the guns out of action and killing some of the
gunners. Those who were not destroyed surrendered, and the prisoners
were left to be sent back by the supports. The squadron then dealt
with the German infantry in the neighborhood. Some of them fled, while
some were killed or surrendered. All these operations were done at a
gallop under fire from flanking blockhouses. The squadron then slowed
down to a walk and took up a position in a sunken road one kilometer
east of Rumilly. Darkness crept down upon them, and gradually they
were surrounded by German infantry with machine-guns, so that they
were in great danger of capture or destruction. Only five of their
horses remained unhit, and the lieutenant in command decided that they
must endeavor to cut their way through and get back. The horses were
stampeded in the direction of the enemy in order to draw the machine-
gun fire, and while these riderless horses galloped wildly out of one
end of the sunken road, the officer and his surviving troopers escaped
from the other end. On the way back they encountered four bodies of
the enemy, whom they attacked and routed. On one occasion their escape
was due to the cunning of another young lieutenant, who spoke German
and held conversations with the enemy in the darkness, deceiving them
as to the identity of his force until they were able to take the
German troops by surprise and hack a way through. This lieutenant was
hit in the face by a bullet, and when he arrived back in Masnieres
with his men in advance of the rear-guard he was only able to make his
report before falling in a state of collapse.

Other small bodies of cavalry--among them the 8th Dragoons and 5th
Hussars--had wild, heroic adventures in the Cambrai salient, where
they rode under blasts of machine-gun fire and rounded up prisoners in
the ruined villages of Noyelles and Fontaine Notre Dame. Some of them
went into the Folie Wood nearby and met seven German officers
strolling about the glades, as though no war was on. They took them
prisoners, but had to release some of them later, as they could not be
bothered with them. Later they came across six ammunition--wagons and
destroyed them. In the heart of the wood was one of the German
divisional headquarters, and one of our cavalry officers dismounted
and approached the cottage stealthily, and looked through the windows.
Inside was a party of German officers seated at a table, with beer
mugs in front of them, apparently unconscious of any danger near them.
Our officer fired his revolver through the windows and then, like a
schoolboy who has thrown a stone, ran away as hard as he could and
joined his troop. Youthful folly of gallant hearts!

After the enemy's surprise his resistance stiffened and he held the
village of Fontaine Notre Dame, and Bourlon Wood, on the hill above,
with strong rear-guards. Very quickly, too, he brought new batteries
into action, and things became unpleasant in fields and villages where
our men, as I saw them on those days, hunted around for souvenirs in
German dugouts and found field-glasses, automatic pistols, and other
good booty.

It seemed to me that the plan as outlined by Gen. Louis Vaughan, not
to exploit success farther than justified by the initial surprise, was
abandoned for a time. A brigade of Guards was put in to attack
Fontaine Notre Dame, and suffered heavily from machine-gun fire before
taking it. The 62d (Yorkshire) Division lost many good men in Bourlon
Village and Bourlon Wood, into which the enemy poured gas-shells and
high explosives.

Then on November 30th the Germans, under the direction of General von
Marwitz, came back upon us with a tiger's pounce, in a surprise attack
which we ought to have anticipated. I happened to be on the way to
Gouzeaucourt early that morning, and, going through the village of
Fins, next to it, I saw men straggling back in some disorder, and gun-
teams wedged in a dense traffic moving in what seemed to me the wrong
direction.

"I don't know what to do," said a young gunner officer. "My battery
has been captured and I can't get into touch with the brigade."

"What has happened?" I asked.

He looked at me in surprise.

"Don't you know? The enemy has broken through."

"Broken through where?"

The gunner officer pointed down the road.

"At the present moment he's in Gouzeaucourt."

I went northward, and saw that places like Hermies and Havrincourt,
which had been peaceful spots for a few days, were under heavy fire.
Bourlon Wood beyond was a fiery furnace. Hell had broken out again and
things looked bad. There was a general packing up of dumps and field
hospitals and heavy batteries. In Gouzeaucourt and other places our
divisional and brigade headquarters were caught napping. Officers were
in their pajamas or in their baths when they heard the snap of
machine-gun bullets. I saw the Guards go forward to Gouzeaucourt for a
counter-attack. They came along munching apples and whistling, as
though on peace maneuvers. Next day, after they had gained back
Gouzeaucourt, I saw many of them wounded, lying under tarpaulins, all
dirty and bloody.

The Germans had adopted our own way of attack. They had assembled
masses of troops secretly, moving them forward by night under the
cover of woods, so that our air scouts saw no movement by day. Our
line was weakly held along the front--the 55th Division, thinned out
by losses, was holding a line of thirteen thousand yards, three times
as much as any troops can hold, in safety--and the German storm-
troops, after a short, terrific bombardment, broke through to a
distance of five miles.

Our tired men, who had gained the first victory, fought heroic rear-
guard actions back from Masnieres and Marcoing, and back from Bourlon
Wood on the northern side of the salient. They made the enemy pay a
high price in blood for the success of his counter-attack, but we lost
many thousands of brave fellows, and the joy bells which had rung in
London on November 20th became sad and ironical music in the hearts of
our disappointed people.

So ended 1917, our black year; and in the spring of 1918, after all
the losses of that year, our armies on the western front were
threatened by the greatest menace that had ever drawn near to them,
and the British Empire was in jeopardy.




VIII


In the autumn of 1917 the Italian disaster of Caporetto had happened,
and Sir Herbert Plumer, with his chief of staff, Sir John Harington,
and many staff-officers of the Second Army, had, as I have told, been
sent to Italy with some of our best divisions, so weakening Sir
Douglas Haig's command. At that very time, also, after the bloody
losses in Flanders, the French government and General Headquarters
brought severe pressure upon the British War Council to take over a
greater length of line in France, in order to release some of the
older classes of the French army who had been under arms since 1914.
We yielded to that pressure and Sir Douglas Haig extended his lines
north and south of St.-Quentin, where the Fifth Army, under General
Gough, was intrusted with the defense.

I went over all that new ground of ours, out from Noyon to Chaulny and
Barisis and the floods of the Oise by La Fere; out from Ham to Holmon
Forest and Francilly and the Epine de Dullon, and the Fort de Liez by
St.-Quentin; and from Peronne to Hargicourt and Jeancourt and La
Verguier. It was a pleasant country, with living trees and green
fields not annihilated by shell-fire, though with the naked eye I
could see the scarred walls of St.-Quentin cathedral, and the villages
near the frontlines had been damaged in the usual way. It was dead
quiet there for miles, except for short bursts of harassing fire now
and then, and odd shells here and there, and bursts of black shrapnel
in the blue sky of mild days.

"Paradise, after Flanders!" said our men, but I knew that there was a
great movement of troops westward from Russia, and wondered how long
this paradise would last.

I looked about for trench systems, support lines, and did not see
them, and wondered what our defense would be if the enemy attacked
here in great strength. Our army seemed wonderfully thinned out. There
were few men to be seen in our outpost line or in reserve. It was all
strangely quiet. Alarmingly quiet.

Yet, pleasant for the time being. I had a brother commanding a battery
along the railway line south of St.-Quentin. I went to see him, and we
had a picnic meal on a little hill staring straight toward St.-Quentin
cathedral. One of his junior officers set the gramophone going. The
colonel of the artillery brigade came jogging up on his horse and
called out, "Fine morning, and a pretty spot!" The infantry divisions
were cheerful. "Like a rest-cure!" they said. They had sports almost
within sight of the German lines. I saw a boxing-match in an Irish
battalion, and while two fellows hammered each other I glanced away
from them to winding, wavy lines of chalk on the opposite hillsides,
and wondered what was happening behind them in that quietude.

"What do you think about this German offensive?" I asked the general
of a London division (General Gorringe of the 47th) standing on a
wagon and watching a tug-of--war. From that place also we could see
the German positions.

"G.H.Q. has got the wind-up," he said. "It is all bluff."

General Hall, temporarily commanding the Irish Division, was of the
same opinion, and took some pains to explain the folly of thinking the
Germans would attack. Yet day after day, week after week, the
Intelligence reports were full of evidence of immense movements of
troops westward, of intensive training of German divisions in back
areas, of new hospitals, ammunition-dumps, airplanes, battery
positions. There was overwhelming evidence as to the enemy's
intentions. Intelligence officers took me on one side and said:
"England ought to know. The people ought to be prepared. All this is
very serious. We shall be 'up against it.'" G.H.Q. was convinced. On
February 23d the war correspondents published articles summarizing the
evidence, pointing out the gravity of the menace, and they were passed
by the censorship. But England was not scared. Dances were in full
swing in London. Little ladies laughed as usual, light-hearted.
Flanders had made no difference to national optimism, though the
hospitals were crowded with blind and maimed and shell-shocked.

"I am skeptical of the German offensive" said Mr. Bonar Law.

Nobody believed the war correspondents. Nobody ever did believe us,
though some of us wrote the truth from first to last as far as the
facts of war go apart from deeper psychology, and a naked realism of
horrors and losses, and criticism of facts, which did not come within
our liberty of the pen.

They were strange months for me. I felt that I was in possession, as
indeed I was, of a terrible secret which might lead to the ending of
the world--our world, as we knew it--with our liberties and power. For
weeks I had been pledged to say no word about it, to write not a word
about it, and it was like being haunted by a specter all day long. One
laughed, but the specter echoed one's laughter and said, "Wait!" The
mild sunshine of those spring days was pleasant to one's spirit in the
woods above La Fere, and in fields where machine-guns chattered a
little, while overhead our airplanes dodged German "Archies." But the
specter chilled one's blood at the reminder of vast masses of field-
gray men drawing nearer to our lines in overwhelming numbers. I
motored to many parts of the front, and my companion sometimes was a
little Frenchman who had lost a leg in the war--D'Artagnan with a
wooden peg, most valiant, most gay. Along the way he recited the poems
of Ronsard. At the journey's end one day he sang old French chansons,
in an English mess, within gunshot of the German lines. He climbed up
a tree and gazed at the German positions, and made sketches while he
hummed little tunes and said between them, "Ah, les sacres Boches! . .
. If only I could fight again!"

I remember a pleasant dinner in the old town of Noyon, in a little
restaurant where two pretty girls waited. They had come from Paris
with their parents to start this business, now that Noyon was safe.
(Safe, O Lord!) And everything was very dainty and clean. At dinner
that night there was a hostile air raid overhead. Bombs crashed. But
the girls were brave. One of them volunteered to go with an officer
across the square to show him the way to the A.P.M., from where he had
to get a pass to stay for dinner. Shrapnel bullets were whipping the
flagstones of the Grande Place, from anti-aircraft guns. The officer
wore his steel helmet. The girl was going out without any hat above
her braided hair. We did not let her go, and the officer had another
guide. One night I brought my brother to the place from his battery
near St. Quentin. We dined well, slept well.

"Noyon is a good spot," he said. "I shall come here again when you
give me a lift."

A few days later my brother was firing at masses of Germans with open
sights, and the British army was in a full-tide retreat, and the
junior officer who had played his gramophone was dead, with other
officers and men of that battery. When I next passed through Noyon
shells were falling into it, and later I saw it in ruins, with the
glory of the Romanesque cathedral sadly scarred. I have ofttimes
wondered what happened to the little family in the old hotel.

So March 21st came, as we knew it would come, even to the very date,
and Ludendorff played his trump cards and the great game.

Before that date I had an interview with General Gough, commanding the
Fifth Army. He pulled out his maps, showed his method of forward
redoubts beyond the main battle zone, and in a quiet, amiable way
spoke some words which froze my blood.

"We may have to give ground," he said, "if the enemy attacks in
strength. We may have to fall back to our main battle zone. That will
not matter very much. It is possible that we may have to go farther
back. Our real line of defense is the Somme. It will be nothing like a
tragedy if we hold that. If we lose the crossings of the Somme it
will, of course, be serious. But not a tragedy even then. It will only
be tragic if we lose Amiens, and we must not do that."

"The crossings of the Somme . . . Amiens!"

Such a thought had never entered my imagination. General Gough had
suggested terrible possibilities.

All but the worst happened. In my despatches, reprinted in book form
with explanatory prefaces, I have told in full detail the meaning and
measure of the British retreat, when forty-eight of our divisions were
attacked by one hundred and fourteen German divisions and fell back
fighting stubborn rear-guard actions which at last brought the enemy
to a dead halt outside Amiens and along the River Ancre northward from
Albert, where afterward in a northern attack the enemy under Prince
Rupprecht of Bavaria broke through the Portuguese between Givenchy and
Festubert, where our wings held, drove up to Bailleul, which was
burned to the ground, and caused us to abandon all the ridges of
Flanders which had been gained at such great cost, and fall back to
the edge of Ypres. In this book I need not narrate all this history
again.

They were evil days for us. The German offensive was conducted with
masterly skill, according to the new method of "infiltration" which
had been tried against Italy with great success in the autumn of '17
at Caporetto.

It consisted in a penetration of our lines by wedges of machine-
gunners constantly reinforced and working inward so that our men,
attacked frontally after terrific bombardment, found themselves under
flanking fire on their right and left and in danger of being cut off.
Taking advantage of a dense fog, for which they had waited according
to meteorological forecast, the Germans had easily made their way
between our forward redoubts on the Fifth Army front, where our
garrisons held out for a long time, completely surrounded, and
penetrated our inner battle zone. Through the gaps they made they came
in masses at a great pace with immense machine--gun strength and light
artillery. On the Third Army front where penetrations were made,
notably near Bullecourt between the 6th and 51st Divisions, the whole
of our army machine was upset for a time like a watch with a broken
mainspring and loose wheels. Staffs lost touch with fighting units.
Communications were broken down. Orders were given but not received.
After enormous losses of men and guns, our heavy artillery was choking
the roads of escape, while our rear-guards fought for time rather than
for ground. The crossings of the Somme were lost too easily. In the
confusion and tumult of those days some of our men, being human, were
demoralized and panic-stricken, and gave ground which might have been
longer held. But on the whole, and in the mass, there was no panic,
and a most grim valor of men who fought for days and nights without
sleep; fought when they were almost surrounded or quite surrounded,
and until few of them remained to hold any kind of line. Fortunately
the Germans were unable to drag their heavy guns over the desert they
had made a year before in their own retreat, and at the end of a week
their pace slackened and they halted, in exhaustion.

I went into the swirl of our retreat day after day up by Guiscard and
Hum; then, as the line moved back, by Peronne and Bapaume, and at last
on a dreadful day by the windmill at Pozieres, our old heroic
fighting-ground, where once again after many battles the enemy was in
Courcelette and High Wood and Delville Wood, and, as I saw by going to
the right through Albert, driving hard up to Mametz and Montauban.
That meant the loss of all the old Somme battlefields, and that struck
a chill in one's heart. But what I marveled at always was the absence
of panic, the fatalistic acceptance of the turn of fortune's wheel by
many officers and men, and the refusal of corps and divisional staffs
to give way to despair in those days of tragedy and crisis.

The northern attack was in many ways worse to bear and worse to see.
The menace to the coast was frightful when the enemy struck up to
Bailleul and captured Kemmel Hill from a French regiment which had
come up to relieve some of our exhausted and unsupported men. All
through this country between Estaires and Merville, to Steenwerck,
Metern, and Bailleul, thousands of civilians had been living on the
edge of the battlefields, believing themselves safe behind our lines.
Now the line had slipped and they were caught by German shell-fire and
German guns, and after nearly four years of war had to abandon their
homes like the first fugitives. I saw old women coming down lanes
where 5.9's were bursting and where our gunners were getting into
action. I saw young mothers packing their babies and their bundles
into perambulators while shells came hurtling over the thatched roofs
of their cottages. I stood on the Mont des Chats looking down upon a
wide sweep of battle, and saw many little farmsteads on fire and
Bailleul one torch of flame and smoke.

There was an old monastery on the Mont des Chats which had been in the
midst of a cavalry battle in October of 1914, when Prince Max of
Hesse, the Kaiser's cousin, was mortally wounded by a shot from one of
our troopers. He was carried into the cell of the old prior, who
watched over him in his dying hours when he spoke of his family and
friends. Then his body was borne down the hill at night and buried
secretly by a parish priest; and when the Kaiser wrote to the Pope,
desiring to know the whereabouts of his cousin's grave, the priest to
whom his message was conveyed said, "Tell the Kaiser he shall know
when the German armies have departed from Belgium and when reparation
has been made for all their evil deeds." It was the prior who told me
that story and who described to me how the British cavalry had forged
their way up the hill. He showed me the scars of bullets on the walls
and the windows from which the monks looked out upon the battle.

"All that is a wonderful memory," said the prior. "Thanks to the
English, we are safe and beyond the range of German shells."

I thought of his words that day I climbed the hill to see the sweep of
battle beyond. The monastery was no longer beyond the range of German
shells. An eight--inch shell had just smashed into the prior's parlor.
Others had opened gaps in the high roofs and walls. The monks had fled
by order of the prior, who stayed behind, like the captain of a
sinking ship. His corridors resounded to the tramp of army boots. The
Ulster gunners had made their headquarters in the refectory, but did
not stay there long. A few days later the monastery was a ruin.

From many little villages caught by the oncoming tide of war our
soldiers helped the people to escape in lorries or on gun-wagons. They
did not weep, nor say much, but were wonderfully brave. I remember a
little family in Robecq whom I packed into my car when shells began to
fall among the houses. A pretty girl, with a little invalid brother in
her arms, and a mother by her side, pointed the way to a cottage in a
wood some miles away. She was gay and smiling when she said, "Au
revoir et merci!" A few days later the cottage and the wood were
behind the German lines.

The northern defense, by the 55th Lancashires, 51st Highlanders (who
had been all through the Somme retreat), the 25th Division of
Cheshires, Wiltshires and Lancashire Fusiliers, and the 9th Scottish
Division, and others, who fought "with their backs to the wall," as
Sir Douglas Haig demanded of them, without reliefs, until they were
worn thin, was heroic and tragic in its ordeal, until Foch sent up his
cavalry (I saw them riding in clouds of dust and heard the panting of
their horses), followed by divisions of blue men in hundreds of blue
lorries tearing up the roads, and forming a strong blue line behind
our thin brown line. Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria had twenty-six fresh
divisions in reserve, but had to hold them until other plans were
developed--the Crown Prince's plan against the French, and the attack
on Arras.

The defense of Arras by the 3d and 56th Divisions--the Iron Division
and the London Division on the left, and by the 15th Division and
Guards on the right, saved the center of our line and all our line. We
had a breathing--space while heavy blows fell against the French and
against three British divisions who had been sent to hold "a quiet
sector" on their right. The Germans drove across the Chemin des Dames,
struck right and left, terrific blows, beat the French back, reached
the Marne again, and threatened Paris.

Foch waited to strike. The genius of Foch was that he waited until the
last minute of safety, taking immense risks in order to be certain of
his counter-stroke. For a time he had to dissipate his reserves, but
he gathered them together again. As quick as the blue men had come up
behind our lines they were withdrawn again. Three of our divisions
went with them, the 51st Highlanders and 15th Scottish, and the 48th
English. The flower of the French army, the veterans of many battles,
was massed behind the Marne, and at Chateau Thierry the American
marines and infantry were given their first big job to do. What
happened all the world knows. The Crown Prince's army was attacked on
both flanks and in the center, and was sent reeling back to escape
complete annihilation.




IX


Ludendorff's great offensive had failed and had turned to ruin. Some
of the twenty-six fresh divisions under Rupprecht of Bavaria were put
into the melting-pot to save the Crown Prince. The British army, with
its gaps filled up by 300,000 new drafts from England, the young
brothers of the elder brothers who had gone before, was ready to
strike again, and on August 8th the Canadians and Australians north
and south of the Somme, led by many tanks, broke the enemy's line
beyond Amiens and slowly but surely rolled it back with enormous
losses.

For the first time in the war the cavalry had their chance of pursuit,
and made full use of it, rounding up great batches of prisoners,
capturing batteries of heavy and light guns, and fighting in many
actions.

"August 8th," writes Ludendorff, "was the black day of the German army
in the history of this war."

He describes from the German point of view what I and others have
described from the British point of view, and the general narrative is
the same--a succession of hammer-blows by the British armies, which
broke not only the German war-machine, but the German spirit. It was a
marvelous feat when the 19th Division and the Welsh waded at dusk
across the foul waters of the River Ancre, under the heights of
Thiepval, assembled under the guns of the enemy up there, and then,
wet to their skins, and in small numbers compared with the strength of
the enemy, stormed the huge ridges from both sides, and hurled the
enemy back from what he thought was an impregnable position, and
followed him day by day, taking thousands of prisoners and smashing
his rear-guard defenses one by one.

The most decisive battle of the British front in the "come-back,"
after our days of retreat, was when with the gallant help of American
troops of the 27th New York Division our men of the English Midlands,
the 46th Division, and others, broke the main Hindenburg line along
the St.-Quentin Canal. That canal was sixty feet wide, with steep
cliffs rising sheer to a wonderful system of German machine-gun
redoubts and tunneled defenses, between the villages of Bellicourt and
Bellinglis. It seemed to me an impossible place to assault and
capture. If the enemy could not hold that line they could hold
nothing. In a dense fog on Sunday morning, September 30th, our men,
with the Americans and Australians in support, went down to the canal-
bank, waded across where the water was shallow, swam across in life-
belts where it was deep, or got across somehow and anyhow, under
blasts of machine-gun fire, by rafts and plank bridges. A few hours
after the beginning of the battle they were far out beyond the German
side of the canal, with masses of prisoners in their hands. The
Americans on the left of the attack, where the canal goes below
ground, showed superb and reckless gallantry (they forgot, however, to
"mop up" behind them, so that the enemy came out of his tunnels and
the Australians had to cut their way through), and that evening I met
their escorts with droves of captured Germans. They had helped to
break the last defensive system of the enemy opposite the British
front, and after that our troops fought through open country on the
way to victory.

I saw many of the scenes which led up to Mons and Le Cateau and
afterward to the Rhine. Something of the horror of war passed when the
enemy drew back slowly in retreat from the lands he had invaded, and
we liberated great cities like Lille and Roubaix and Tourcoing, and
scores of towns and villages where the people had been waiting for us
so long, and now wept with joy to see us. The entry into Lille was
unforgetable, when old men and women and girls and boys and little
children crowded round us and kissed our hands. So it was in other
places. Yet not all the horror had passed. In Courtrai, in St.-Amand
by Valenciennes, in Bohain, and other villages, the enemy's shell-fire
and poison-gas killed and injured many of the people who had been
under the German yoke so long and now thought they were safe.
Hospitals were filled with women gasping for breath, with gas-fumes in
their lungs, and with dying children. In Valenciennes the cellars were
flooded when I walked there on its day of capture, so that when shells
began to fall the people could not go down to shelter. Some of them
did not try to go down. At an open window sat an old veteran of 1870
with his medal on his breast, and with his daughter and granddaughter
on each side of his chair. He called out, "Merci! Merci!" when English
soldiers passed, and when I stopped a moment clasped my hands through
the window and could not speak for the tears which fell down his white
and withered cheeks. A few dead Germans lay about the streets, and in
Maubeuge on the day before the armistice I saw the last dead German of
the war in that part of the line. He lay stretched outside the railway
station into which many shells had crashed. It was as though he had
walked from his own comrades toward our line before a bullet caught
him.

Ludendorff writes of the broken morale of the German troops, and of
how his men surrendered to single troopers of ours, while whole
detachments gave themselves up to tanks. "Retiring troops," he wrote,
"greeted one particular division (the cavalry) that was going up fresh
and gallantly to the attack, with shouts of 'Blacklegs!' and 'War-
prolongers!"' That is true. When the Germans left Bohain they shouted
out to the French girls: "The English are coming. Bravo! The war will
soon be over!" On a day in September, when British troops broke the
Drocourt-Queant line, I saw the Second German Guards coming along in
batches, like companies, and after they had been put in barbed-wire
inclosures they laughed and clapped at the sight of other crowds of
comrades coming down as prisoners. I thought then, "Something has
broken in the German spirit." For the first time the end seemed very
near.

Yet the German rear-guards fought stubbornly in many places,
especially in the last battles round Cambrai, where, on the north, the
Canadian corps had to fight desperately, and suffered heavy and bitter
losses under machine-gun fire, while on the south our naval division
and others were badly cut up.

General Currie, whom I saw during those days, was anxious and
disheartened. He was losing more men in machine-gun actions round
Cambrai than in bigger battles. I watched those actions from Bourlon
Wood, saw the last German railway train steam out of the town, and
went into the city early on the morning of its capture, when there was
a roaring fire in the heart of it and the Canadians were routing out
the last Germans from their hiding-places.

The British army could not have gone on much farther after November
11th, when the armistice brought us to a halt. For three months our
troops had fought incessantly, storming many villages strongly
garrisoned with machine-gunners, crossing many canals under heavy
fire, and losing many comrades all along the way. The pace could not
have been kept up. There is a limit even to the valor of British
troops, and for a time we had reached that limit. There were not many
divisions who could have staggered on to new attacks without rest and
relief. But they had broken the German armies against them by a
succession of hammer-strokes astounding in their rapidity and in their
continuity, which I need not here describe in detail, because in my
despatches, now in book form, I have narrated that history as I was a
witness of it day by day.

Elsewhere the French and Americans had done their part with steady,
driving pressure. The illimitable reserves of Americans, and their
fighting quality, which triumphed over a faulty organization of
transport and supplies, left the German High Command without hope even
for a final gamble.

Before them the German troops were in revolt, at last, against the
bloody, futile sacrifice of their manhood and people. A blinding light
had come to them, revealing the criminality of their war lords in this
"Great Swindle" against their race. It was defeat and agony which
enlightened them, as most people--even ourselves--are enlightened only
by suffering and disillusionment, and never by successes.




X


After the armistice I went with our troops to the Rhine, and entered
Cologne with them. That was the most fantastic adventure of all in
four and a half years of strange and terrible adventures. To me there
was no wild exultation in the thought of being in Cologne with our
conquering army. The thought of all the losses on the way, and of all
the futility of this strife, smote at one's heart. What fools the
Germans had been, what tragic fools! What a mad villainy there had
been among rival dynasties and powers and politicians and peoples to
lead to this massacre! What had any one gained out of it all? Nothing
except ruin. Nothing except great death and poverty and remorse and
revolt.

The German people received us humbly. They were eager to show us
courtesy and submission. It was a chance for our young Junkers, for
the Prussian in the hearts of young pups of ours, who could play the
petty tyrant, shout at German waiters, refuse to pay their bills,
bully shopkeepers, insult unoffending citizens. A few young staff-
officers behaved like that, disgustingly. The officers of fighting
battalions and the men were very different. It was a strange study in
psychology to watch them. Here they were among the "Huns." The men
they passed in the streets and sat with in the restaurants had been in
German uniforms a few weeks before, or a few days. They were "the
enemy," the men they had tried to kill, the men who had tried to kill
them. They had actually fought against them in the same places. At the
Domhof Hotel I overheard a conversation between a young waiter and
three of our cavalry officers. They had been in the same fight in the
village of Noyelles, near Cambrai, a tiny place of ruin, where they
had crouched under machine-gun fire. The waiter drew a diagram on the
table-cloth. "I was just there." The three cavalry officers laughed.
"Extraordinary! We were a few yards away." They chatted with the
waiter as though he were an old acquaintance who had played against
them in a famous football-match. They did not try to kill him with a
table-knife. He did not put poison in the soup.

That young waiter had served in a hotel in Manchester, where he had
served a friend of mine, to whom he now expressed his opinion on the
folly of the war, and the criminality of his war lords, and things in
general. Among these last he uttered an epigram which I remember for
its brutal simplicity. It was when a staff-officer of ours, rather the
worse for wine, had been making a scene with the head waiter, bullying
him in a strident voice.

"Some English gentlemen are swine," said the young waiter. "But all
German gentlemen are swine."

Some of our officers and men billeted in houses outside Cologne or
across the Rhine endeavored to stand on distant terms with the "Huns."
But it was impossible to be discourteous when the old lady of the
house brought them an early cup of coffee before breakfast, warmed
their boots before the kitchen fire, said, "God be praised, the war is
over." For English soldiers, anything like hostility was ridiculous in
the presence of German boys and girls who swarmed round their horses
and guns, kissed their hands, brought them little pictures and gifts.

"Kids are kids," said a sergeant-major. "I don't want to cut their
throats! Queer, ain't it?"

Many of the "kids" looked half starved. Our men gave them bread and
biscuit and bully beef. In Cologne the people seemed pleased to see
British soldiers. There was no sense of humiliation. No agony of grief
at this foreign occupation. Was it lack of pride, cringing--or a
profound relief that the river of blood had ceased to flow and even a
sense of protection against the revolutionary mob which had looted
their houses before our entry? Almost every family had lost one son.
Some of them two, three, even five sons, in that orgy of slaughter.
They had paid a dreadful price for pride. Their ambition had been
drowned in blood.

In the restaurants orchestras played gay music. Once I heard them
playing old English melodies, and I sickened a little at that. That
was going too far! I looked round the Cafe Bauer--a strange scene
after four and a half years Hun-hating. English soldiers were chatting
with Germans, clinking beer mugs with them. The Germans lifted their
hats to English "Tommies"; our men, Canadian and English, said
"Cheerio!" to German soldiers in uniforms without shoulder-straps or
buttons. English people still talking of Huns, demanding vengeance,
the maintenance of the blockade, would have become hysterical if they
had come suddenly to this German cafe before the signing of peace.

Long before peace was signed at Versailles it had been made on the
Rhine. Stronger than the hate of war was human nature. Face to face,
British soldiers found that every German had two eyes, a nose, and a
mouth, in spite of being a "Hun." As ecclesiastics would say when not
roused to patriotic fury, they had been made "in the image of God."
There were pleasant-spoken women in the shops and in the farmhouses.
Blue-eyed girls with flaxen pigtails courtesied very prettily to
English officers. They were clean. Their houses were clean, more
spotless even than English homes. When soldiers turned on a tap they
found water came out of it. Wonderful! The sanitary arrangements were
good. Servants were hard--working and dutiful. There was something,
after all, in German Kultur. At night the children said their prayer
to the Christian God. Most of them were Catholics, and very pious.

"They seem good people," said English soldiers.

At night, in the streets of Cologne, were women not so good. Shameless
women, though daintily dressed and comely. British soldiers--English,
Scottish, and Canadian--grinned back at their laughing eyes, entered
into converse with them, found they could all speak English, went down
side-streets with them to narrow-fronted houses. There were squalid
scenes when the A.P.M. raided these houses and broke up an entente
cordiale that was flagrant and scandalous.

Astonishing climax to the drama of war! No general orders could stop
fraternization before peace was signed. Human nature asserted itself
against all artificial restrictions and false passion. Friends of mine
who had been violent in their hatred of all Germans became thoughtful,
and said: "Of course there are exceptions," and, "The innocent must
not suffer for the guilty," and, "We can afford to be a little
generous now."

But the innocent were made to suffer for the guilty and we were not
generous. We maintained the blockade, and German children starved, and
German mothers weakened, and German girls swooned in the tram-cars,
and German babies died. Ludendorff did not starve or die. Neither did
Hindenburg, nor any German war lord, nor any profiteer. Down the
streets of Cologne came people of the rich middle classes, who gorged
themselves on buns and cakes for afternoon tea. They were cakes of
ersatz flour with ersatz cream, and not very healthy or nutritious,
though very expensive. But in the side-streets, among the working--
women, there was, as I found, the wolf of hunger standing with open
jaws by every doorway. It was not actual starvation, but what the
Germans call unternahrung (under-nourishment), producing rickety
children, consumptive girls, and men out of whom vitality had gone
They stinted and scraped on miserable substitutes, and never had
enough to eat. Yet they were the people who for two years at least had
denounced the war, had sent up petitions for peace, and had written to
their men in the trenches about the Great Swindle and the Gilded Ones.
They were powerless, as some of them told me, because of the secret
police and martial law. What could they do against the government,
with all their men away at the front? They were treated like pigs,
like dirt. They could only suffer and pray. They had a little hope
that in the future, if France and England were not too hard, they
might pay back for the guilt of their war lords and see a new Germany
arise out of its ruin, freed from militarism and with greater
liberties. So humble people talked to us when I went among them with a
friend who spoke good German, better than my elementary knowledge. I
believed in their sincerity, which had come through suffering, though
I believed that newspaper editors, many people in the official
classes, and the old military caste were still implacable in hatred
and unrepentant.

The German people deserved punishment for their share in the guilt of
war. They had been punished by frightful losses of life, by a
multitude of cripples, by the ruin of their Empire. When they told me
of their hunger I could not forget the hungry wives and children of
France and Belgium, who had been captives in their own land behind
German lines, nor our prisoners who had been starved, until many of
them died. When I walked through German villages and pitied the women
who yearned for their men, still prisoners in our hands, nearly a year
after the armistice, and long after peace (a cruelty which shamed us,
I think), I remembered hundreds of French villages broken into dust by
German gun-fire, burned by incendiary shells, and that vast desert of
the battlefields in France and Belgium which never in our time will
regain its life as a place of human habitation. When Germans said,
"Our industry is ruined," "Our trade is killed," I thought of the
factories in Lille and many towns from which all machinery had been
taken or in which all machinery had been broken. I thought of the
thousand crimes of their war, the agony of millions of people upon
whose liberties they had trampled and upon whose necks they had
imposed a brutal yoke. Yet even with all those memories of tragic
scenes which in this book are but lightly sketched, I hoped that the
peace we should impose would not be one of vengeance, by which the
innocent would pay for the sins of the guilty, the children for their
fathers' lust, the women for their war lords, the soldiers who hated
war for those who drove them to the shambles; but that this peace
should in justice and mercy lead the working-people of Europe out of
the misery in which all were plunged, and by a policy no higher than
common sense, but as high as that, establish a new phase of
civilization in which military force would be reduced to the limits of
safety for European peoples eager to end the folly of war and get back
to work.

I hoped too much. There was no such peace.




PART EIGHT


For What Men Died


I


In this book I have written in a blunt way some episodes of the war as
I observed them, and gained first-hand knowledge of them in their
daily traffic. I have not painted the picture blacker than it was, nor
selected gruesome morsels and joined them together to make a jig-saw
puzzle for ghoulish delight. Unlike Henri Barbusse, who, in his
dreadful book Le Feu, gave the unrelieved blackness of this human
drama, I have here and in other books shown the light as well as the
shade in which our men lived, the gaiety as well as the fear they had,
the exultation as well as the agony of battle, the spiritual ardor of
boys as well as the brutality of the task that was theirs. I have
tried to set down as many aspects of the war's psychology as I could
find in my remembrance of these years, without exaggeration or false
emphasis, so that out of their confusion, even out of their
contradiction, the real truth of the adventure might be seen as it
touched the souls of men.

Yet when one strives to sum up the evidence and reach definite
conclusions about the motives which led men of the warring nations to
kill one another year after year in those fields of slaughter, the
ideals for which so many millions of men laid down their lives, and
the effect of those years of carnage upon the philosophy of this
present world of men, there is no clear line of thought or conviction.

It is difficult at least to forecast the changes that will be produced
by this experience in the social structure of civilized peoples, and
in their relations to one another though it is certain, even now, that
out of the passion of the war a new era in the world's history is
being born. The ideas of vast masses of people have been
revolutionized by the thoughts that were stirred up in them during
those years of intense suffering. No system of government designed by
men afraid of the new ideas will have power to kill them, though they
may throttle them for a time. For good or ill, I know not which, the
ideas germinated in trenches and dugouts, in towns under shell--fire
or bomb-fire, in hearts stricken by personal tragedy or world-agony,
will prevail over the old order which dominated the nations of Europe,
and the old philosophy of political and social governance will be
challenged and perhaps overthrown. If the new ideas are thwarted by
reactionary rulers endeavoring to jerk the world back to its old-
fashioned discipline under their authority, there will be anarchy
reaching to the heights of terror in more countries than those where
anarchy now prevails. If by fear or by wisdom the new ideas are
allowed to gain their ground gradually, a revolution will be
accomplished without anarchy. But in any case, for good or ill, a
revolution will happen. It has happened in the sense that already
there is no resemblance between this Europe after-the-war and that
Europe-before-the-war, in the mental attitude of the masses toward the
problems of life. In every country there are individuals, men and
women, who are going about as though what had happened had made no
difference, and as though, after a period of restlessness, the people
will "settle down" to the old style of things. They are merely sleep-
walkers. There are others who see clearly enough that they cannot
govern or dupe the people with old spell-words, and they are
struggling desperately to think out new words which may help them to
regain their power over simple minds. The old gangs are organizing a
new system of defense, building a new kind of Hindenburg line behind
which they are dumping their political ammunition. But their
Hindenburg line is not impregnable. The angry murmur of the mob--
highly organized, disciplined, passionate, trained to fight, is
already approaching the outer bastions.

In Russia the mob is in possession, wiping the blood out of their eyes
after the nightmare of anarchy, encompassed by forces of the old
regime, and not knowing yet whether its victory is won or how to shape
the new order that must follow chaos.

In Germany there is only the psychology of stunned people, broken for
a time in body and spirit, after stupendous efforts and bloody losses
which led to ruin and the complete destruction of their old pride,
philosophy, and power. The revolution that has happened there is
strange and rather pitiful. It was not caused by the will--power of
the people, but by a cessation of will-power. They did not overthrow
their ruling dynasty, their tyrants. The tyrants fled, and the people
were not angry, nor sorry, nor fierce, nor glad. They were stupefied.
Members of the old order joined hands with those of the people's
parties, out to evolve a republic with new ideals based upon the
people's will and inspired by the people's passion. The Germans, after
the armistice and after the peace, had no passion, as they had no
will. They were in a state of coma. The "knock-out blow" had happened
to them, and they were incapable of action. They just ceased from
action. They had been betrayed to this ruin by their military and
political rulers, but they had not vitality enough to demand vengeance
on those men. The extent of their ruin was so great that it
annihilated anger, political passion, pride, all emotion except that
of despair. How could they save something out of the remnants of the
power that had been theirs? How could they keep alive, feed their
women and children, pay their monstrous debts? They had lost their
faith as well as their war. Nothing that they had believed was true.
They had believed in their invincible armies--and the armies had bled
to death and broken. They had believed in the supreme military genius
of their war lords, and the war lords, blunderers as well as
criminals, had led them to the abyss and dropped them over. They had
believed in the divine mission of the German people as a civilizing
force, and now they were despised by all other peoples as a brutal and
barbarous race, in spite of German music, German folk-songs, German
art, German sentiment. They had been abandoned by God, by the
protecting hand of the altes gutes Deutsches Gottes to whom many had
prayed for comfort and help in those years of war, in Protestant
churches and Catholic churches, with deep piety and childlike faith.
What sins had they done that they should be abandoned by God? The
invasion of Belgium? That, they argued, was a tragic necessity.
Atrocities? Those were (they believed) the inventions of their
enemies. There had been stern things done, terrible things, but
according to the laws of war. Francs-tireurs had been shot. That was
war. Hostages had been shot. It was to save German lives from
slaughter by civilians. Individual brutalities, yes. There were brutes
in all armies. The U-boat war? It was (said the German patriot) to
break a blockade that was starving millions of German children to slow
death, condemning millions to consumption, rickets, all manner of
disease. Nurse Cavell? She pleaded guilty to a crime that was
punishable, as she knew, by death. She was a brave woman who took her
risk open-eyed, and was judged according to the justice of war, which
is very cruel. Poison-gas? Why not, said German soldiers, when to be
gassed was less terrible than to be blown to bits by high explosives?
They had been the first to use that new method of destruction, as the
English were the first to use tanks, terrible also in their
destructiveness. Germany was guilty of this war, had provoked it
against peaceful peoples? No! A thousand times no. They had been, said
the troubled soul of Germany, encompassed with enemies. They had
plotted to close her in. Russia was a huge menace. France had entered
into alliance with Russia, and was waiting her chance to grab at
Alsace-Lorraine. Italy was ready for betrayal. England hated the power
of Germany and was in secret alliance with France and Russia. Germany
had struck to save herself. "It was a war of self-defense, to save the
Fatherland."

The German people still clung desperately to those ideas after the
armistice, as I found in Cologne and other towns, and as friends of
mine who had visited Berlin told me after peace was signed. The
Germans refused to believe in accusations of atrocity. They knew that
some of these stories had been faked by hostile propaganda, and,
knowing that, as we know, they thought all were false. They said
"Lies-lies-lies!"--and made counter--charges against the Russians and
Poles. They could not bring themselves to believe that their sons and
brothers had been more brutal than the laws of war allow, and what
brutality they had done was imposed upon them by ruthless discipline.
But they deplored the war, and the common people, ex-soldiers and
civilians, cursed the rich and governing classes who had made profit
out of it, and had continued it when they might have made peace with
honor. That was their accusation against their leaders--that and the
ruthless, bloody way in which their men had been hurled into the
furnace on a gambler's chance of victory, while they were duped by
faked promises of victory.

When not put upon their defense by accusations against the whole
Fatherland, the German people, as far as I could tell by talking with
a few of them, and by those letters which fell into our hands,
revolted in spirit against the monstrous futility and idiocy of the
war, and were convinced in their souls that its origin lay in the
greed and pride of the governing classes of all nations, who had used
men's bodies as counters in a devil's game. That view was expressed in
the signboards put above the parapet, "We're all fools: let's all go
home"; and in that letter by the woman who wrote:

"For the poor here it is terrible, and yet the rich, the gilded ones,
the bloated aristocrats, gobble up everything in front of our very
eyes . . . All soldiers--friend and foe--ought to throw down their
weapons and go on strike, so that this war, which enslaves the people
more than ever, may cease."

It is that view, terrible in its simplicity, which may cause a more
passionate revolution in Germany when the people awaken from their
stupor. It was that view which led to the Russian Revolution and to
Bolshevism. It is the suspicion which is creeping into the brains of
British working-men and making them threaten to strike against any
adventure of war, like that in Russia, which seems to them (unless
proved otherwise) on behalf of the "gilded ones" and for the
enslavement of the peoples.

Not to face that truth is to deny the passionate convictions of masses
of men in Europe. That is one key to the heart of the revolutionary
movement which is surging beneath the surface of our European state.
It is a the belief of many brooding minds that almost as great as the
direct guilt of the German war lords was the guilt of the whole
political society of Europe, whose secret diplomacy (unrevealed to the
peoples) was based upon hatred and fear and rivalry, in play for
imperial power and the world's markets, as common folk play dominoes
for penny points, and risking the lives of common folk in a gamble for
enormous stakes of territory, imperial prestige, the personal vanity
of politicians, the vast private gain of trusts and profiteers. To
keep the living counters quiet, to make them jump into the pool of
their own free will at the word "Go," the statesmen, diplomats,
trusts, and profiteers debauch the name of patriotism, raise the
watchword of liberty, and play upon the ignorance of the mob easily,
skillfully, by inciting them to race hatred, by inflaming the brute-
passion in them, and by concocting a terrible mixture of false
idealism and self-interest, so that simple minds quick to respond to
sentiment, as well as those quick to hear the call of the beast, rally
shoulder to shoulder and march to the battlegrounds under the spell of
that potion. Some go with a noble sense of sacrifice, some with blood-
lust in their hearts, most with the herd-instinct following the lead,
little knowing that they are but the pawns of a game which is being
played behind closed doors by the great gamblers in the courts and
Foreign Offices, and committee-rooms, and counting-houses, of the
political casinos in Europe.

I have heard the expression of this view from soldiers during the war
and since the war, at street-corners, in tram-cars, and in
conversations with railway men, mechanics, policemen, and others who
were soldiers a year ago, or stay-at-homes, thinking hard over the
meaning of the war. I am certain that millions of men are thinking
these things, because I found the track of those common thoughts,
crude, simple, dangerous, among Canadian soldiers crossing the
Atlantic, in Canadian towns, and in the United States, as I had begun
to see the trail of them far back in the early days of the war when I
moved among French soldiers, Belgian soldiers, and our own men.

My own belief is not so simple as that. I do not divorce all peoples
from their governments as victims of a subtle tyranny devised by
statesmen and diplomats of diabolical cunning, and by financial
magnates ready to exploit human life for greater gains. I see the evil
which led to the crime of the war and to the crimes of the peace with
deep-spread roots to the very foundation of human society. The fear of
statesmen, upon which all international relations were based, was in
the hearts of peoples. France was afraid of Germany and screwed up her
military service, her war preparations, to the limit of national
endurance, the majority of the people of France accepting the burden
as inevitable and right. Because of her fear of Germany France made
her alliance with Russian Czardom, her entente cordiale with Imperial
England, and the French people poured their money into Russian loans
as a life insurance against the German menace. French statesmen knew
that their diplomacy was supported by the majority of the people by
their ignorance as well as by their knowledge.

So it was in Germany. The spell-words of the German war lords
expressed the popular sentiment of the German people, which was
largely influenced by the fear of Russia in alliance with France, by
fear and envy of the British Empire and England's sea-power, and by
the faith that Germany must break through that hostile combination at
all costs in order to fulfil the high destiny which was marked out for
her, as she thought, by the genius and industry of her people. The
greed of the "bloated aristocrats" was only on a bigger scale than the
greed of the small shopkeepers. The desire to capture new markets
belonged not only to statesmen, but to commercial travelers. The
German peasant believed as much in the might of the German armies as
Hindenburg and Ludendorff. The brutality of German generals was not
worse than that of the Unteroffizier or the foreman of works.

In England there was no traditional hatred of Germany, but for some
years distrust and suspicions, which had been vented in the
newspapers, with taunts and challenges, stinging the pride of Germans
and playing into the hands of the Junker caste.

Our war psychology was different from that of our allies because of
our island position and our faith in seapower which had made us immune
from the fear of invasion. It took some time to awaken the people to a
sense of real peril and of personal menace to their hearths and homes.
To the very end masses of English folk believed that we were fighting
for the rescue of other peoples--Belgian, French, Serbian, Rumanian--
and not for the continuance of our imperial power.

The official propaganda, the words and actions of British statesmen,
did actually express the conscious and subconscious psychology of the
multitude. The call to the old watchwords of national pride and
imperial might thrilled the soul of a people of proud tradition in
sea--battles and land-battles. Appeals for the rescue of "the little
nations" struck old chords of chivalry and sentiment--though with a
strange lack of logic and sincerity Irish demand for self-government
was unheeded. Base passions as well as noble instincts were stirred
easily. Greedy was the appetite of the mob for atrocity tales. The
more revolting they were the quicker they were swallowed. The foul
absurdity of the "corpse-factory" was not rejected any more than the
tale of the "crucified Canadian" (disproved by our own G.H.Q.) or the
cutting off of children's hands and women's breasts, for which I could
find no evidence from the only British ambulances working in the
districts where such horrors were reported. Spy-mania flourished in
mean streets, German music was banned in English drawing-rooms.
Preachers and professors denied any quality of virtue or genius to
German poets, philosophers, scientists, or scholars. A critical
weighing of evidence was regarded as pro-Germanism and lack of
patriotism. Truth was delivered bound to passion. Hatred at home,
inspired largely by feminine hysteria and official propaganda, reached
such heights that when fighting-men came back on leave their refusal
to say much against their enemy, their straightforward assertions that
Fritz was not so black as he was painted, that he fought bravely, died
gamely, and in the prison-camps was well-mannered, decent,
industrious, good-natured, were heard with shocked silence by mothers
and sisters who could only excuse this absence of hate on the score of
war-weariness.




II


The people of all countries were deeply involved in the general blood-
guiltiness of Europe. They made no passionate appeal in the name of
Christ or in the name of humanity for the cessation of the slaughter
of boys and the suicide of nations and for a reconciliation of peoples
upon terms of some more reasonable argument than that of high
explosives. Peace proposals from the Pope, from Germany, from Austria,
were rejected with fierce denunciation, most passionate scorn, as
"peace plots" and "peace traps," not without the terrible logic of the
vicious circle, because, indeed, there was no sincerity of
renunciation in some of those offers of peace, and the powers hostile
to us were simply trying our strength and our weakness in order to
make their own kind of peace which should be that of conquest. The
gamblers, playing the game of "poker," with crowns and armies as their
stakes, were upheld generally by the peoples, who would not abate one
point of pride, one fraction of hate, one claim of vengeance, though
all Europe should fall in ruin and the last legions of boys be
massacred. There was no call from people to people across the
frontiers of hostility: "Let us end this homicidal mania! Let us get
back to sanity and save our younger sons. Let us hand over to justice
those who will continue the slaughter of our youth!" There was no
forgiveness, no generous instinct, no large-hearted common sense in
any combatant nation of Europe. Like wolves they had their teeth in
one another's throats, and would not let go, though all bloody and
exhausted, until one should fall at the last gasp, to be mangled by
the others. Yet in each nation, even in Germany, there were men and
women who saw the folly of the war and the crime of it, and desired to
end it by some act of renunciation and repentance, and by some
uplifting of the people's spirit to vault the frontiers of hatred and
the barbed wire which hedged in patriotism. Some of them were put in
prison. Most of them saw the impossibility of counteracting the forces
of insanity which had made the world mad, and kept silent, hiding
their thoughts and brooding over them. The leaders of the nations
continued to use mob-passion as their argument and justification,
excited it anew when its fires burned low, focused it upon definite
objectives, and gave it a sense of righteousness by the high-sounding
watchwords of liberty, justice, honor, and retribution. Each side
proclaimed Christ as its captain and invoked the blessing and aid of
the God of Christendom, though Germans were allied with Turks and
France was full of black and yellow men. The German people did not try
to avert their ruin by denouncing the criminal acts of their war lords
nor by deploring the cruelties they had committed. The Allies did not
help them to do so, because of their lust for bloody vengeance and
their desire for the spoils of victory. The peoples shared the blame
of their rulers because they were not nobler than their rulers. They
cannot now plead ignorance or betrayal by false ideals which duped
them, because character does not depend on knowledge, and it was the
character of European peoples which failed in the crisis of the
world's fate, so that they followed the call-back of the beast in the
jungle rather than the voice of the Crucified One whom they pretended
to adore.




III


The character of European peoples failed in common sense and in
Christian charity. It did not fail in courage to endure great agonies,
to suffer death largely, to be obedient to the old tradition of
patriotism and to the stoic spirit of old fighting races.

In courage I do not think there was much difference between the chief
combatants. The Germans, as a race, were wonderfully brave until their
spirit was broken by the sure knowledge of defeat and by lack of food.
Many times through all those years they marched shoulder to shoulder,
obedient to discipline, to certain death, as I saw them on the Somme,
like martyrs. They marched for their Fatherland, inspired by the
spirit of the German race, as it had entered their souls by the memory
of old German songs, old heroic ballads, their German home life, their
German women, their love of little old towns on hillsides or in
valleys, by all the meaning to them of that word Germany, which is
like the name of England to us--who is fool enough to think
otherwise?--and fought often, a thousand times, to the death, as I saw
their bodies heaped in the fields of the Somme and round their pill-
boxes in Flanders and in the last phase of the war behind the
Hindenburg line round their broken batteries on the way of Mons and Le
Cateau. The German people endured years of semi-starvation and a drain
of blood greater than any other fighting people--two million dead--
before they lost all vitality, hope, and pride and made their abject
surrender. At the beginning they were out for conquest, inspired by
arrogance and pride. Before the end they fought desperately to defend
the Fatherland from the doom which cast its black shadow on them as it
drew near. They were brave, those Germans, whatever the brutality of
individual men and the cold-blooded cruelty of their commanders.

The courage of France is to me like an old heroic song, stirring the
heart. It was medieval in its complete adherence to the faith of valor
and its spirit of sacrifice for La Patrie. If patriotism were enough
as the gospel of life--Nurse Cavell did not think so--France as a
nation was perfect in that faith. Her people had no doubt as to their
duty. It was to defend their sacred soil from the enemy which had
invaded it. It was to hurl the brutes back from the fair fields they
had ravaged and despoiled. It was to liberate their brothers and
sisters from the outrageous tyranny of the German yoke in the captured
country. It was to seek vengeance for bloody, foul, and abominable
deeds.

In the first days of the war France was struck by heavy blows which
sent her armies reeling back in retreat, but before the first battle
of the Marne, when her peril was greatest, when Paris seemed doomed,
the spirit of the French soldiers rose to a supreme act of faith--
which was fulfilled when Foch attacked in the center, when Manoury
struck on the enemy's flank and hundreds of thousands of young
Frenchmen hurled themselves, reckless of life, upon the monster which
faltered and then fled behind the shelter of the Aisne. With bloodshot
eyes and parched throats and swollen tongues, blind with sweat and
blood, mad with the heat and fury of attack, the French soldiers
fought through that first battle of the Marne and saved France from
defeat and despair.

After that, year after year, they flung themselves against the German
defense and died in heaps, or held their lines, as at Verdun, against
colossal onslaught, until the dead lay in masses. But the living said,
"They shall not pass!" and kept their word.

The people of France--above all, the women of France--behind the
lines, were the equals of the fighting-men in valor. They fought with
despair, through many black months, and did not yield. They did the
work of their men in the fields, and knew that many of them--the sons
or brothers or lovers or husbands--would never return for the harvest-
time, but did not cry to have them back until the enemy should be
thrust out of France. Behind the German line, under German rule, the
French people, prisoners in their own land, suffered most in spirit,
but were proud and patient in endurance.

"Why don't your people give in?" asked a German officer of a woman in
Nesle. "France is bleeding to death."

"We shall go on for two years, or three years, or four, or five, and
in the end we shall smash you," said the woman who told me this.

The German officer stared at her and said, "You people are wonderful!"

Yes, they were wonderful, the French, and their hatred of the Germans,
their desire for vengeance, complete and terrible, at all cost of
life, even though France should bleed to death and die after victory,
is to be understood in the heights and depths of its hatred and in the
passion of its love for France and liberty. When I think of France I
am tempted to see no greater thing than such patriotism as that to
justify the gospel of hate against such an enemy, to uphold vengeance
as a sweet virtue. Yet if I did so I should deny the truth that has
been revealed to many men and women by the agony of the war--that if
civilization may continue patriotism is "not enough," that
international hatred will produce other wars worse than this, in which
civilization will be submerged, and that vengeance, even for dreadful
crimes, cannot be taken of a nation without punishing the innocent
more than the guilty, so that out of its cruelty and injustice new
fires of hatred are lighted, the demand for vengeance passes to the
other side, and the devil finds another vicious circle in which to
trap the souls of men and "catch 'em all alive O!"

To deny that would also be a denial of the faith with which millions
of young Frenchmen rushed to the colors in the first days of the war.
It was they who said, "This is a war to end war." They told me so. It
was they who said: "German militarism must be killed so that all
militarism shall be abolished. This is a war for liberty." So soldiers
of France spoke to me on a night when Paris was mobilized and the
tragedy began. It is a Frenchman--Henri Barbusse--who, in spite of the
German invasion, the outrages against his people, the agony of France,
has the courage to say that all peoples in Europe were involved in the
guilt of that war because of their adherence to that old barbaric
creed of brute force and the superstitious servitude of their souls to
symbols of national pride based upon military tradition. He even
denounces the salute to the flag, instinctive and sacred in the heart
of every Frenchman, as a fetish worship in which the narrow bigotry of
national arrogance is raised above the rights of the common masses of
men. He draws no distinction between a war of defense and a war of
aggression, because attack is the best means of defense, and all
peoples who go to war dupe themselves into the belief that they do so
in defense of their liberties, and rights, and power, and property.
Germany attacked France first because she was ready first and sure of
her strength. France would have attacked Germany first to get back
Alsace-Lorraine, to wipe out 1870, if she also had been ready and sure
of her strength. The political philosophy on both sides of the Rhine
was the same. It was based on military power and rivalry of secret
alliances and imperial ambitions. The large-hearted internationalism
of Jean Jaures, who with all his limitations was a great Frenchman,
patriot, and idealist, had failed among his own people and in Germany,
and the assassin's bullet was his reward for the adventure of his soul
to lift civilization above the level of the old jungle law and to save
France from the massacre which happened.

In war France was wonderful, most heroic in sacrifice, most splendid
in valor. In her dictated peace, which was ours also, her leaders were
betrayed by the very evil which millions of young Frenchmen had gone
out to kill at the sacrifice of their own lives. Militarism was
exalted in France above the ruins of German militarism. It was a peace
of vengeance which punished the innocent more than the guilty, the
babe at the breast more than the Junker in his Schloss, the poor
working-woman more than the war lord, the peasant who had been driven
to the shambles more than Sixt von Arnim or Rupprecht of Bavaria, or
Ludendorff, or Hindenburg. It is a peace that can only be maintained
by the power of artillery and by the conscription of every French boy
who shall be trained for the next "war of defense" (twenty years
hence, thirty years hence), when Germany is strong again--stronger
than France because of her population, stronger then, enormously, than
France, in relative numbers of able-bodied men than in August, 1914.
So if that philosophy continue--and I do not think it will--the old
fear will be re-established, the old burdens of armament will be piled
up anew, the people of France will be weighed down as before under a
military regime stifling their liberty of thought and action, wasting
the best years of their boyhood in barracks, seeking protective
alliances, buying allies at great cost, establishing the old spy
system, the old diplomacy, the old squalid ways of inter--national
politics, based as before on fear and force. Marshal Foch was a fine
soldier. Clemenceau was a strong Minister of War. There was no man
great enough in France to see beyond the passing triumph of military
victory and by supreme generosity of soul to lift their enemy out of
the dirt of their despair, so that the new German Republic should
arise from the ruins of the Empire, remorseful of their deeds in
France and Belgium, with all their rage directed against their ancient
tyranny, and with a new-born spirit of democratic liberty reaching
across the old frontiers.

Is that the foolish dream of the sentimentalist? No, more than that;
for the German people, after their agony, were ready to respond to
generous dealing, pitiful in their need of it, and there is enough
sentiment in German hearts--the most sentimental people in Europe--to
rise with a surge of emotion to a new gospel of atonement if their old
enemies had offered a chance of grace. France has not won the war by
her terms of peace nor safeguarded her frontiers for more than a few
uncertain years. By harking back to the old philosophy of militarism
she has re-established peril amid a people drained of blood and deeply
in debt. Her support of reactionary forces in Russia is to establish a
government which will guarantee the interest on French loans and
organize a new military regime in alliance with France and England.
Meanwhile France looks to the United States and British people to
protect her from the next war, when Germany shall be strong again. She
is playing the militarist role without the strength to sustain it.




IV


What of England? . . . Looking back at the immense effort of the
British people in the war, our high sum of sacrifice in blood and
treasure, and the patient courage of our fighting-men, the world must,
and does, indeed, acknowledge that the old stoic virtue of our race
was called out by this supreme challenge, and stood the strain. The
traditions of a thousand years of history filled with war and travail
and adventure, by which old fighting races had blended with different
strains of blood and temper--Roman, Celtic, Saxon, Danish, Norman-
survived in the fiber of our modern youth, country-bred or city-bred,
in spite of the weakening influences of slumdom, vicious environment,
ill-nourishment, clerkship, and sedentary life. The Londoner was a
good soldier. The Liverpools and Manchesters were hard and tough in
attack and defense. The South Country battalions of Devons and
Dorsets, Sussex and Somersets, were not behindhand in ways of death.
The Scots had not lost their fire and passion, but were terrible in
their onslaught. The Irish battalions, with recruiting cut off at the
base, fought with their old gallantry, until there were few to answer
the last roll-call. The Welsh dragon encircled Mametz Wood, devoured
the "Cockchafers" on Pilkem Ridge, and was hard on the trail of the
Black Eagle in the last offensive. The Australians and Canadians had
all the British quality of courage and the benefit of a harder
physique, gained by outdoor life and unweakened ancestry. In the mass,
apart from neurotic types here and there among officers and men, the
stock was true and strong. The spirit of a seafaring race which has
the salt in its blood from Land's End to John o' Groat's and back
again to Wapping had not been destroyed, but answered the ruffle of
Drake's drum and, with simplicity and gravity in royal navy and in
merchant marine, swept the highways of the seas, hunted worse monsters
than any fabulous creatures of the deep, and shirked no dread
adventure in the storms and darkness of a spacious hell. The men who
went to Zeebrugge were the true sons of those who fought the Spanish
Armada and singed the King o' Spain's beard in Cadiz harbor. The
victors of the Jutland battle were better men than Nelson's (the
scourings of the prisons and the sweepings of the press-gang) and not
less brave in frightful hours. Without the service of the British
seamen the war would have been lost for France and Italy and Belgium,
and all of us.

The flower of our youth went out to France and Flanders, to Egypt,
Palestine, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and Saloniki, and it was a fine
flower of gallant boyhood, clean, for the most part eager, not brutal
except by intensive training, simple in minds and hearts, chivalrous
in instinct, without hatred, adventurous, laughter-loving, and
dutiful. That is God's truth, in spite of vice-rotted, criminal,
degenerate, and brutal fellows in many battalions, as in all crowds of
men.

In millions of words during the years of war I recorded the bravery of
our troops on the western front, their patience, their cheerfulness,
suffering, and agony; yet with all those words describing day by day
the incidents of their life in war I did not exaggerate the splendor
of their stoic spirit or the measure of their sacrifice. The heroes of
mythology were but paltry figures compared with those who, in the
great war, went forward to the roaring devils of modern gun-fire,
dwelt amid high explosives more dreadful than dragons, breathed in the
fumes of poison-gas more foul than the breath of Medusa, watched and
slept above mine-craters which upheaved the hell-fire of Pluto, and
defied thunderbolts more certain in death-dealing blows than those of
Jove.

Something there was in the spirit of our men which led them to endure
these things without revolt--ideals higher than the selfish motives of
life. They did not fight for greed or glory, not for conquest, nor for
vengeance. Hatred was not the inspiration of the mass of them, for I
am certain that except in hours when men "see red" there was no direct
hatred of the men in the opposite trenches, but, on the other hand, a
queer sense of fellow--feeling, a humorous sympathy for "old Fritz,"
who was in the same bloody mess as themselves. Our generals, it is
true, hated the Germans. "I should like one week in Cologne," one of
them told me, before there seemed ever a chance of getting there, "and
I would let my men loose in the streets and turn a blind eye to
anything they liked to do."

Some of our officers were inspired by a bitter, unrelenting hate.

"If I had a thousand Germans in a row," one of them said to me, "I
would cut all their throats, and enjoy the job.

But that was not the mentality of the men in the ranks, except those
who were murderers by nature and pleasure. They gave their cigarettes
to prisoners and filled their water-bottles and chatted in a friendly
way with any German who spoke a little English, as I have seen them
time and time again on days of battle, in the fields of battle. There
were exceptions to this treatment, but even the Australians and the
Scots, who were most fierce in battle, giving no quarter sometimes,
treated their prisoners with humanity when they were bundled back.
Hatred was not the motive which made our men endure all things. It was
rather, as I have said, a refusal in their souls to be beaten in
manhood by all the devils of war, by all its terrors, or by its
beastliness, and at the back of all the thought that the old country
was "up against it" and that they were there to avert the evil.

Young soldiers of ours, not only of officer rank, but of "other
ranks," as they were called, were inspired at the beginning, and some
of them to the end, with a simple, boyish idealism. They saw no other
causes of war than German brutality. The enemy to them was the monster
who had to be destroyed lest the world and its beauty should perish--
and that was true so long as the individual German, who loathed the
war, obeyed the discipline of the herd-leaders and did not revolt
against the natural laws which, when the war had once started, bade
him die in defense of his own Fatherland. Many of those boys of ours
made a dedication of their lives upon the altar of sacrifice,
believing that by this service and this sacrifice they would help the
victory of civilization over barbarism, and of Christian morality over
the devil's law. They believed that they were fighting to dethrone
militarism, to insure the happiness and liberties of civilized
peoples, and were sure of the gratitude of their nation should they
not have the fate to fall upon the field of honor, but go home blind
or helpless.

I have read many letters from boys now dead in which they express that
faith.

"Do not grieve for me," wrote one of them, "for I shall be proud to
die for my country's sake."

"I am happy," wrote another (I quote the tenor of his letters),
"because, though I hate war, I feel that this is the war to end war.
We are the last victims of this way of argument. By smashing the
German war-machine we shall prove for all time the criminal folly of
militarism and Junkerdom."

There were young idealists like that, and they were to be envied for
their faith, which they brought with them from public schools and from
humble homes where they had read old books and heard old watchwords. I
think, at the beginning of the war there were many like that. But as
it continued year after year doubts crept in, dreadful suspicions of
truth more complex than the old simplicity, a sense of revolt against
sacrifice unequally shared and devoted to a purpose which was not that
for which they had been called to fight.

They had been told that they were fighting for liberty. But their
first lesson was the utter loss of individual liberty under a
discipline which made the private soldier no more than a number. They
were ordered about like galley--slaves, herded about like cattle,
treated individually and in the mass with utter disregard of their
comfort and well-being. Often, as I know, they were detrained at rail-
heads in the wind and rain and by ghastly errors of staff-work kept
waiting for their food until they were weak and famished. In the base
camps men of one battalion were drafted into other battalions, where
they lost their old comrades and were unfamiliar with the speech and
habits of a crowd belonging to different counties, the Sussex men
going to a Manchester regiment, the Yorkshire men being drafted to a
Surrey unit. By R.T.O.'s and A.M.L.O.'s and camp commandments and town
majors and staff pups men were bullied and bundled about, not like
human beings, but like dumb beasts, and in a thousand ways injustice,
petty tyranny, hard work, degrading punishments for trivial offenses,
struck at their souls and made the name of personal liberty a mockery.
From their own individuality they argued to broader issues. Was this
war for liberty? Were the masses of men on either side fighting with
free will as free men? Those Germans--were they not under discipline,
each man of them, forced to fight whether they liked it or not?
Compelled to go forward to sacrifice, with machine-guns behind them to
shoot them down if they revolted against their slave-drivers? What
liberty had they to follow their conscience or their judgment--"
Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die"--like all soldiers
in all armies. Was it not rather that the masses of men engaged in
slaughter were serving the purpose of powers above them, rival powers,
greedy for one another's markets, covetous of one another's wealth,
and callous of the lives of humble men? Surely if the leaders of the
warring nations were put together for even a week in some such place
as Hooge, or the Hohenzollern redoubt, afflicted by the usual
harassing fire, poison-gas, mine explosions, lice, rats, and the
stench of rotting corpses, with the certainty of death or
dismemberment at the week-end, they would settle the business and come
to terms before the week was out. I heard that proposition put forward
many times by young officers of ours, and as an argument against their
own sacrifice they found it unanswerable.




V


The condition and psychology of their own country as they read about
it in the Paris Daily Mail, which was first to come into their
billets, filled some of these young men with distress and disgust,
strengthened into rage when they went home on leave. The deliberate
falsification of news (the truth of which they heard from private
channels) made them discredit the whole presentation of our case and
state. They said, "Propaganda!" with a sharp note of scorn. The breezy
optimism of public men, preachers, and journalists, never downcast by
black news, never agonized by the slaughter in these fields,
minimizing horrors and loss and misery, crowing over the enemy,
prophesying early victory which did not come, accepting all the
destruction of manhood (while they stayed safe) as a necessary and
inevitable "misfortune," had a depressing effect on men who knew they
were doomed to die, in the law of averages, if the war went on. "Damn
their optimism!" said some of our officers. "It's too easy for those
behind the lines. It is only we who have the right of optimism. It's
we who have to do the dirty work! They seem to think we like the job!
What are they doing to bring the end nearer?"

The frightful suspicion entered the heads of some of our men (some of
those I knew) that at home people liked the war and were not anxious
to end it, and did not care a jot for the sufferings of the soldiers.
Many of them came back from seven days' leave fuming and sullen.
Everybody was having a good time. Munition-workers were earning
wonderful wages and spending them on gramophones, pianos, furs, and
the "pictures." Everybody was gadding about in a state of joyous
exultation. The painted flapper was making herself sick with the
sweets of life after office hours in government employ, where she did
little work for a lot of pocket-money. The society girl was dancing
bare-legged for "war charities," pushing into bazaars for the "poor,
dear wounded," getting her pictures into the papers as a "notable
warworker," married for the third time in three years; the middle-
class cousin was driving staff-officers to Whitehall, young gentlemen
of the Air Service to Hendon, junior secretaries to their luncheon.
Millions of girls were in some kind of fancy dress with buttons and
shoulder--straps, breeches and puttees, and they seemed to be making a
game of the war and enjoying it thoroughly. Oxford dons were
harvesting, and proud of their prowess with the pitchfork--behold
their patriotism!--while the boys were being blown to bits on the Yser
Canal. Miners were striking for more wages, factory hands were downing
tools for fewer hours at higher pay, the government was paying any
price for any labor--while Tommy Atkins drew his one-and-twopence and
made a little go a long way in a wayside estaminet before jogging up
the Menin road to have his head blown off. The government had created
a world of parasites and placemen housed in enormous hotels, where
they were engaged at large salaries upon mysterious unproductive
labors which seemed to have no result in front-line trenches.
Government contractors were growing fat on the life of war, amassing
vast fortunes, juggling with excess profits, battening upon the flesh
and blood of boyhood in the fighting-lines. These old men, these fat
men, were breathing out fire and fury against the Hun, and vowing by
all their gods that they would see their last son die in the last
ditch rather than agree to any peace except that of destruction. There
were "fug committees" (it was Lord Kitchener's word) at the War
Office, the Board of Trade, the Foreign Office, the Home Office, the
Ministry of Munitions, the Ministry of Information, where officials on
enormous salaries smoked cigars of costly brands and decided how to
spend vast sums of public money on "organization" which made no
difference to the man stifling his cough below the parapet in a wet
fog of Flanders, staring across No Man's Land for the beginning of a
German attack.

In all classes of people there was an epidemic of dancing, jazzing,
card-playing, theater-going. They were keeping their spirits up
wonderfully. Too well for men slouching about the streets of London on
leave, and wondering at all this gaiety, and thinking back to the
things they had seen and forward to the things they would have to do.
People at home, it seemed, were not much interested in the life of the
trenches; anyhow, they could not understand. The soldier listened to
excited tales of air raids. A bomb had fallen in the next street. The
windows had been broken. Many people had been killed in a house
somewhere in Hackney. It was frightful. The Germans were devils. They
ought to be torn to pieces, every one of them. The soldier on leave
saw crowds of people taking shelter in underground railways, working--
men among them, sturdy lads, panic-stricken. But for his own wife and
children he had an evil sense of satisfaction in these sights. It
would do them good. They would know what war meant--just a little.
They would not be so easy in their damned optimism. An air raid? Lord
God, did they know what a German barrage was like? Did they guess how
men walked day after day through harassing fire to the trenches? Did
they have any faint idea of life in a sector where men stood, slept,
ate, worked, under the fire of eight-inch shells, five-point--nines,
trench-mortars, rifle-grenades, machine-gun bullets, snipers, to say
nothing of poison-gas, long-range fire on the billets in small
farmsteads, and on every moonlight night air raids above wooden
hutments so closely crowded into a small space that hardly a bomb
could fall without killing a group of men.

"Oh, but you have your dugouts!" said a careless little lady.

The soldier smiled.

It was no use talking. The people did not want to hear the tragic side
of things. Bairnsfather's "Ole Bill" seemed to them to typify the
spirit of the fighting-man. .. "'Alf a mo', Kaiser!" . . .

The British soldier was gay and careless of death--always. Shell-fire
meant nothing to him. If he were killed--well, after all, what else
could he expect? Wasn't that what he was out for? The twice-married
girl knew a charming boy in the air force. He had made love to her
even before Charlie was "done in." These dear boys were so greedy for
love. She could not refuse them, poor darlings! Of course they had all
got to die for liberty, and that sort of thing. It was very sad. A
terrible thing--war! . . . Perhaps she had better give up dancing for
a week, until Charlie had been put into the casualty lists.

"What are we fighting for?" asked officers back from leave, turning
over the pages of the Sketch and Tatler, with pictures of race-
meetings, strike-meetings, bare--backed beauties at war bazaars, and
portraits of profiteers in the latest honors list. "Are we going to
die for these swine? These parasites and prostitutes? Is this the war
for noble ideals, liberty, Christianity, and civilization? To hell
with all this filth! The world has gone mad and we are the victims of
insanity."

Some of them said that below all that froth there were deep and quiet
waters in England. They thought of the anguish of their own wives and
mothers, their noble patience, their uncomplaining courage, their
spiritual faith in the purpose of the war. Perhaps at the heart
England was true and clean and pitiful. Perhaps, after, all, many
people at home were suffering more than the fighting-men, in agony of
spirit. It was unwise to let bitterness poison their brains. Anyhow,
they had to go on. How long, how long, O Lord?

"How long is it going to last?" asked the London Rangers of their
chaplain. He lied to them and said another three months. Always he had
absolute knowledge that the war would end three months later. That was
certain. "Courage!" he said. "Courage to the end of the last lap!"

Most of the long-service men were dead and gone long before the last
lap came. It was only the new boys who went as far as victory. He
asked permission of the general to withdraw nineteen of them from the
line to instruct them for Communion. They were among the best
soldiers, and not afraid of the ridicule of their fellows because of
their religious zeal. The chaplain's main purpose was to save their
lives, for a while, and give them a good time and spiritual comfort.
They had their good time. Three weeks later came the German attack on
Arras and they were all killed. Every man of them.

The chaplain, an Anglican, found it hard to reconcile Christianity
with such a war as this, but he did not camouflage the teachings of
the Master he tried to serve. He preached to his men the gospel of
love and forgiveness of enemies. It was reported to the general, who
sent for him.

"Look here, I can't let you go preaching 'soft stuff' to my men. I
can't allow all that nonsense about love. My job is to teach them to
hate. You must either cooperate with me or go."

The chaplain refused to change his faith or his teaching, and the
general thought better of his intervention.

For all chaplains it was difficult. Simple souls were bewildered by
the conflict between the spirit of Christianity and the spirit of war.
Many of them--officers as well as men--were blasphemous in their scorn
of "parson stuff," some of them frightfully ironical.

A friend of mine watched two chaplains passing by. One of them was a
tall man with a crown and star on his shoulder-strap.

"I wonder," said my friend, with false simplicity, "whether Jesus
Christ would have been a lieutenant--colonel?"

On the other hand, many men found help in religion, and sought its
comfort with a spiritual craving. They did not argue about Christian
ethics and modern warfare. Close to death in the midst of tragedy,
conscious in a strange way of their own spiritual being and of a
spirituality present among masses of men above the muck of war, the
stench of corruption, and fear of bodily extinction, they groped out
toward God. They searched for some divine wisdom greater than the
folly of the world, for a divine aid which would help them to greater
courage. The spirit of God seemed to come to them across No Man's Land
with pity and comradeship. Catholic soldiers had a simpler, stronger
faith than men of Protestant denominations, whose faith depended more
on ethical arguments and intellectual reasonings. Catholic chaplains
had an easier task. Leaving aside all argument, they heard the
confessions of the soldiers, gave them absolution for their sins, said
mass for them in wayside barns, administered the sacraments, held the
cross to their lips when they fell mortally wounded, anointed them
when the surgeon's knife was at work, called the names of Jesus and
Mary into dying ears. There was no need of argument here. The old
faith which has survived many wars, many plagues, and the old
wickedness of men was still full of consolation to those who accepted
it as little children, and by their own agony hoped for favor from the
Man of Sorrows who was hanged upon a cross, and found a mother-love in
the vision of Mary, which came to them when they were in fear and pain
and the struggle of death. The padre had a definite job to do in the
trenches and for that reason was allowed more liberty in the line than
other chaplains. Battalion officers, surgeons, and nurses were patient
with mysterious rites which they did not understand, but which gave
comfort, as they saw, to wounded men; and the heroism with which many
of those priests worked under fire, careless of their own lives,
exalted by spiritual fervor, yet for the most part human and humble
and large-hearted and tolerant, aroused a general admiration
throughout the army. Many of the Protestant clergy were equally
devoted, but they were handicapped by having to rely more upon
providing physical comforts for the men than upon spiritual acts, such
as anointing and absolution, which were accepted without question by
Catholic soldiers.

Yet the Catholic Church, certain of its faith, and all other churches
claiming that they teach the gospel of Christ, have been challenged to
explain their attitude during the war and the relation of their
teaching to the world-tragedy, the Great Crime, which has happened. It
will not be easy for them to do so. They will have to explain how it
is that German bishops, priests, pastors, and flocks, undoubtedly
sincere in their professions of faith, deeply pious, as our soldiers
saw in Cologne, and fervent in their devotion to the sacraments on
their side of the fighting-line, as the Irish Catholics on our side,
were able to reconcile this piety with their war of aggression. The
faith of the Austrian Catholics must be explained in relation to their
crimes, if they were criminal, as we say they were, in leading the way
to this war by their ultimatum to Serbia. If Christianity has no
restraining influence upon the brutal instincts of those who profess
and follow its faith, then surely it is time the world abandoned so
ineffective a creed and turned to other laws likely to have more
influence on human relationships. That, brutally, is the argument of
the thinking world against the clergy of all nations who all claimed
to be acting according to the justice of God and the spirit of Christ.
It is a powerful argument, for the simple mind, rejecting casuistry,
cuts straight to the appalling contrast between Christian profession
and Christian practice, and says: "Here, in this war, there was no
conflict between one faith and another, but a murderous death-struggle
between many nations holding the same faith, preaching the same
gospel, and claiming the same God as their protector. Let us seek some
better truth than that hypocrisy! Let us, if need be, in honesty, get
back to the savage worship of national gods, the Ju-ju of the tribe."

My own belief is that the war was no proof against the Christian
faith, but rather is a revelation that we are as desperately in need
of the spirit of Christ as at any time in the history of mankind. But
I think the clergy of all nations, apart from a heroic and saintly
few, subordinated their faith, which is a gospel of charity, to
national limitations. They were patriots before they were priests, and
their patriotism was sometimes as limited, as narrow, as fierce, and
as bloodthirsty as that of the people who looked to them for truth and
light. They were often fiercer, narrower, and more desirous of
vengeance than the soldiers who fought, because it is now a known
truth that the soldiers, German and Austrian, French and Italian and
British, were sick of the unending slaughter long before the ending of
the war, and would have made a peace more fair than that which now
prevails if it had been put to the common vote in the trenches;
whereas the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Cologne, and
the clergy who spoke from many pulpits in many nations, under the
Cross of Christ, still stoked up the fires of hate and urged the
armies to go on fighting "in the cause of justice," "for the defense
of the Fatherland," "for Christian righteousness," to the bitter end.
Those words are painful to write, but as I am writing this book for
truth's sake, at all cost, I let them stand . . . .




VI


The entire aspect of the war was changed by the Russian Revolution,
followed by the collapse of the Russian armies and the Peace of Brest-
Litovsk, when for the first time the world heard the strange word
"Bolshevism," and knew not what it meant.

The Russian armies had fought bravely in the first years of the war,
with an Oriental disregard of death. Under generals in German pay,
betrayed by a widespread net of anarchy and corruption so villainous
that arms and armaments sent out from England had to be bribed on
their way from one official to another, and never reached the front,
so foul in callousness of human life that soldiers were put into the
fighting-line without rifle or ammunition, these Russian peasants
flung themselves not once, but many times, against the finest troops
of Germany, with no more than naked bayonets against powerful
artillery and the scythe of machine-gun fire, and died like sheep in
the slaughter-houses of Chicago. Is it a wonder that at the last they
revolted against this immolation, turned round upon their tyrants, and
said: "You are the enemy. It is you that we will destroy"?

By this new revelation they forgot their hatred of Germans. They said:
"You are our brothers; we have no hatred against you. We do not want
to kill you. Why should you kill us? We are all of us the slaves of
bloodthirsty castes, who use our flesh for their ambitions. Do not
shoot us, brothers, but join hands against the common tyranny which
enslaves our peoples." They went forward with outstretched hands, and
were shot, down like rabbits by some Germans, and by others were not
shot, because German soldiers gaped, wide-eyed, at this new gospel, as
it seemed, and said: "They speak words of truth. Why should we kill
one another?"

The German war lords ordered a forward movement, threatened their own
men with death if they fraternized with Russians, and dictated their
terms of peace on the old lines of military conquest. But as
Ludendorff has confessed, and as we now know from other evidence, many
German soldiers were "infected" with Bolshevism and lost their
fighting spirit.

Russia was already in anarchy. Constitutional government had been
replaced by the soviets and by committees of soldiers and workmen.
Kerensky had fled. Lenin and Trotzky were the Marat and Danton of the
Revolution, and decreed the Reign of Terror. Tales of appalling
atrocity, some true, some false (no one can tell how true or how
false), came through to France and England. It was certain that the
whole fabric of society in Russia had dissolved in the wildest anarchy
the world has seen in modern times, and that the Bolshevik gospel of
"brotherhood" with humanity was, at least, rudely "interrupted" by
wholesale murder within its own boundaries.

One other thing was certain. Having been relieved of the Russian
menace, Germany was free to withdraw her armies on that front and use
all her striking force in the west. It should have cautioned our
generals to save their men for the greatest menace that had confronted
them. But without caution they fought the battles of 1917, in
Flanders, as I have told.

In 1917 and in the first half of 1918 there seemed no ending to the
war by military means. Even many of our generals who had been so
breezy in their optimism believed now that the end must come by
diplomatic means--a "peace by understanding." I had private talks with
men in high command, who acknowledged that the way must be found, and
the British mind prepared for negotiations, because there must come a
limit to the drain of blood on each side. It was to one man in the
world that many men in all armies looked for a way out of this
frightful impasse.

President Wilson had raised new hope among many men who otherwise were
hopeless. He not only spoke high words, but defined the meanings of
them. His definition of liberty seemed sound and true, promising the
self-determination of peoples. His offer to the German people to deal
generously with them if they overthrew their tyranny raised no quarrel
among British soldiers. His hope of a new diplomacy, based upon "open
covenants openly arrived at," seemed to cut at the root of the old
evil in Europe by which the fate of peoples had been in the hands of
the few. His Fourteen Points set out clearly and squarely a just basis
of peace. His advocacy of a League of Nations held out a vision of a
new world by which the great and small democracies should be united by
a common pledge to preserve peace and submit their differences to a
supreme court of arbitration. Here at last was a leader of the world,
with a clear call to the nobility in men rather than to their base
passions, a gospel which would raise civilization from the depths into
which it had fallen, and a practical remedy for that suicidal mania
which was exhausting the combatant nations.

I think there were many millions of men on each side of the fighting-
line who thanked God because President Wilson had come with a wisdom
greater than the folly which was ours to lead the way to an honorable
peace and a new order of nations. I was one of them . . . Months
passed, and there was continual fighting, continued slaughter, and no
sign that ideas would prevail over force. The Germans launched their
great offensive, broke through the British lines, and afterward
through the French lines, and there were held and checked long enough
for our reserves to be flung across the Channel--300,000 boys from
England and Scotland, who had been held in hand as the last counters
for the pool. The American army came in tidal waves across the
Atlantic, flooded our back areas, reached the edge of the
battlefields, were a new guaranty of strength. Their divisions passed
mostly to the French front. With them, and with his own men,
magnificent in courage still, and some of ours, Foch had his army of
reserve, and struck.

So the war ended, after all, by military force, and by military
victory greater than had seemed imaginable or possible six months
before.

In the peace terms that followed there was but little trace of those
splendid ideas which had been proclaimed by President Wilson. On one
point after another he weakened, and was beaten by the old militarism
which sat enthroned in the council-chamber, with its foot on the neck
of the enemy. The "self-determination of peoples" was a hollow phrase
signifying nothing. Open covenants openly arrived at were mocked by
the closed doors of the Conference. When at last the terms were
published their merciless severity, their disregard of racial
boundaries, their creation of hatreds and vendettas which would lead,
as sure as the sun should rise, to new warfare, staggered humanity,
not only in Germany and Austria, but in every country of the world,
where at least minorities of people had hoped for some nobler vision
of the world's needs, and for some healing remedy for the evils which
had massacred its youth. The League of Nations, which had seemed to
promise so well, was hedged round by limitations which made it look
bleak and barren. Still it was peace, and the rivers of blood had
ceased to flow, and the men were coming home again. . . Home again!




VII


The men came home in a queer mood, startling to those who had not
watched them "out there," and to those who welcomed peace with flags.
Even before their homecoming, which was delayed week after week, month
after month, unless they were lucky young miners out for the victory
push and back again quickly, strange things began to happen in France
and Flanders, Egypt and Palestine. Men who had been long patient
became suddenly impatient. Men who had obeyed all discipline broke
into disobedience bordering on mutiny. They elected spokesmen to
represent their grievances, like trade-unionists. They "answered back"
to their officers in such large bodies, with such threatening anger,
that it was impossible to give them "Field Punishment Number One," or
any other number, especially as their battalion officers sympathized
mainly with their point of view. They demanded demobilization
according to their terms of service, which was for "the duration of
the war." They protested against the gross inequalities of selection
by which men of short service were sent home before those who had been
out in 1914, 1915, 1916. They demanded justness, fair play, and
denounced red tape and official lies. "We want to go home!" was their
shout on parade. A serious business, subversive of discipline.

Similar explosions were happening in England. Bodies of men broke camp
at Folkestone and other camps, demonstrated before town halls,
demanded to speak with mayors, generals, any old fellows who were in
authority, and refused to embark for France until they had definite
pledges that they would receive demobilization papers without delay.
Whitehall, the sacred portals of the War Office, the holy ground of
the Horse Guards' Parade, were invaded by bodies of men who had
commandeered ambulances and lorries and had made long journeys from
their depots. They, too, demanded demobilization. They refused to be
drafted out for service to India, Egypt, Archangel, or anywhere. They
had "done their bit," according to their contract. It was for the War
Office to fulfil its pledges. "Justice" was the word on their lips,
and it was a word which put the wind up (as soldiers say) any staff-
officers and officials who had not studied the laws of justice as they
concern private soldiers, and who had dealt with them after the
armistice and after the peace as they had dealt with them before--as
numbers, counters to be shifted here and there according to the needs
of the High Command. What was this strange word "justice" on soldiers'
lips? . . . Red tape squirmed and writhed about the business of
demobilization. Orders were made, communicated to the men, canceled
even at the railway gates. Promises were made and broken. Conscripts
were drafted off to India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Archangel, against
their will and contrary to pledge. Men on far fronts, years absent
from their wives and homes, were left to stay there, fever-stricken,
yearning for home, despairing. And while the old war was not yet cold
in its grave we prepared for a new war against Bolshevik Russia,
arranging for the spending of more millions, the sacrifice of more
boys of ours, not openly, with the consent of the people, but on the
sly, with a fine art of camouflage.

The purpose of the new war seemed to many men who had fought for
"liberty" an outrage against the "self--determination of peoples"
which had been the fundamental promise of the League of Nations, and a
blatant hypocrisy on the part of a nation which denied self--
government to Ireland. The ostensible object of our intervention in
Russia was to liberate the Russian masses from "the bloody tyranny of
the Bolsheviks," but this ardor for the liberty of Russia had not been
manifest during the reign of Czardom and grand dukes when there were
massacres of mobs in Moscow, bloody Sundays in St. Petersburg, pogroms
in Riga, floggings of men and girls in many prisons, and when free
speech, liberal ideas, and democratic uprisings had been smashed by
Cossack knout and by the torture of Siberian exile.

Anyhow, many people believed that it was none of our business to
suppress the Russian Revolution or to punish the leaders of it, and it
was suspected by British working-men that the real motive behind our
action was not a noble enthusiasm for liberty, but an endeavor to
establish a reactionary government in Russia in order to crush a
philosophy of life more dangerous to the old order in Europe than high
explosives, and to get back the gold that had been poured into Russia
by England and France. By a strange paradox of history, French
journalists, forgetting their own Revolution, the cruelties of
Robespierre and Marat, the September Massacres, the torture of Marie
Antoinette in the Tuileries, the guillotining of many fair women of
France, and after 1870 the terrors of the Commune, were most horrified
by the anarchy in Russia, and most fierce in denunciation of the
bloody struggle by which a people made mad by long oppression and
infernal tyrannies strove to gain the liberties of life.

Thousands of British soldiers newly come from war in France were
sullenly determined that they would not be dragged off to the new
adventure. They were not alone. As Lord Rothermere pointed out, a
French regiment mutinied on hearing a mere unfounded report that it
was being sent to the Black Sea. The United States and Japan were
withdrawing. Only a few of our men, disillusioned by the ways of
peace, missing the old comradeship of the ranks, restless,
purposeless, not happy at home, seeing no prospect of good employment,
said: "Hell! . . . Why not the army again, and Archangel, or any old
where?" and volunteered for Mr. Winston Churchill's little war.

After the trouble of demobilization came peace pageants and
celebrations and flag-wavings. But all was not right with the spirit
of the men who came back. Something was wrong. They put on civilian
clothes again, looked to their mothers and wives very much like the
young men who had gone to business in the peaceful days before the
August of '14. But they had not come back the same men. Something had
altered in them. They were subject to queer moods, queer tempers, fits
of profound depression alternating with a restless desire for
pleasure. Many of them were easily moved to passion when they lost
control of themselves. Many were bitter in their speech, violent in
opinion, frightening. For some time, while they drew their
unemployment pensions, they did not make any effort to get work for
the future. They said: "That can wait. I've done my bit. The country
can keep me for a while. I helped to save it . . . Let's go to the
'movies.'" They were listless when not excited by some "show."
Something seemed to have snapped in them; their will-power. A quiet
day at home did not appeal to them.

"Are you tired of me?" said the young wife, wistfully. "Aren't you
glad to be home?"

"It's a dull sort of life," said some of them.

The boys, unmarried, hung about street-corners, searched for their
pals, formed clubs where they smoked incessantly, and talked in an
aimless way.

Then began the search for work. Boys without training looked for jobs
with wages high enough to give them a margin for amusement, after the
cost of living decently had been reckoned on the scale of high prices,
mounting higher and higher. Not so easy as they had expected. The
girls were clinging to their jobs, would not let go of the pocket-
money which they had spent on frocks. Employers favored girl labor,
found it efficient and, on the whole, cheap. Young soldiers who had
been very skilled with machine-guns, trench-mortars, hand-grenades,
found that they were classed with the ranks of unskilled labor in
civil life. That was not good enough. They had fought for their
country. They had served England. Now they wanted good jobs with short
hours and good wages. They meant to get them. And meanwhile prices
were rising in the shops. Suits of clothes, boots, food, anything,
were at double and treble the price of pre-war days. The profiteers
were rampant. They were out to bleed the men who had been fighting.
They were defrauding the public with sheer, undisguised robbery, and
the government did nothing to check them. England, they thought, was
rotten all through.

Who cared for the men who had risked their lives and bore on their
bodies the scars of war? The pensions doled out to blinded soldiers
would not keep them alive. The consumptives, the gassed, the
paralyzed, were forgotten in institutions where they lay hidden from
the public eye. Before the war had been over six months "our heroes,"
"our brave boys in the trenches" were without preference in the
struggle for existence.

Employers of labor gave them no special consideration. In many offices
they were told bluntly (as I know) that they had "wasted" three or
four years in the army and could not be of the same value as boys just
out of school. The officer class was hardest hit in that way. They had
gone straight from the public schools and universities to the army.
They had been lieutenants, captains, and majors in the air force, or
infantry battalions, or tanks, or trench-mortars, and they had drawn
good pay, which was their pocket-money. Now they were at a loose end,
hating the idea of office-work, but ready to knuckle down to any kind
of decent job with some prospect ahead. What kind of job? What
knowledge had they of use in civil life? None. They scanned
advertisements, answered likely invitations, were turned down by
elderly men who said: "I've had two hundred applications. And none of
you young gentlemen from the army are fit to be my office-boy." They
were the same elderly men who had said: "We'll fight to the last
ditch. If I had six sons I would sacrifice them all in the cause of
liberty and justice."

Elderly officers who had lost their businesses for their country's
sake, who with a noble devotion had given up everything to "do their
bit," paced the streets searching for work, and were shown out of
every office where they applied for a post. I know one officer of good
family and distinguished service who hawked round a subscription--book
to private houses. It took him more courage than he had needed under
shell-fire to ring the bell and ask to see "the lady of the house." He
thanked God every time the maid handed back his card and said, "Not at
home." On the first week's work he was four pounds out of pocket . . .
Here and there an elderly officer blew out his brains. Another sucked
a rubber tube fastened to the gas-jet . . . It would have been better
if they had fallen on the field of honor.

Where was the nation's gratitude for the men who had fought and died,
or fought and lived? Was it for this reward in peace that nearly a
million of our men gave up their lives? That question is not my
question. It is the question that was asked by millions of men in
England in the months that followed the armistice, and it was answered
in their own brains by a bitterness and indignation out of which may
be lit the fires of the revolutionary spirit.

At street-corners, in tramway cars, in tea-shops where young men
talked at the table next to mine I listened to conversations not meant
for my ears, which made me hear in imagination and afar off (yet not
very far, perhaps) the dreadful rumble of revolution, the violence of
mobs led by fanatics. It was the talk, mostly, of demobilized
soldiers. They asked one another, "What did we fight for?" and then
other questions such as, "Wasn't this a war for liberty?" or, "We
fought for the land, didn't we? Then why shouldn't we share the land?"
Or, "Why should we be bled white by profiteers?"

They mentioned the government, and then laughed in a scornful way.

"The government," said one man, "is a conspiracy against the people.
All its power is used to protect those who grow fat on big jobs, big
trusts, big contracts. It used us to smash the German Empire in order
to strengthen and enlarge the British Empire for the sake of those who
grab the oil-wells, the gold-fields, the minerals, and the markets of
the world."




VIII


Out of such talk revolution is born, and revolution will not be
averted by pretending that such words are not being spoken and that
such thoughts are not seething among our working-classes. It will only
be averted by cutting at the root of public suspicion, by cleansing
our political state of its corruption and folly, and by a clear,
strong call of noble-minded men to a new way of life in which a great
people believing in the honor and honesty of its leadership and in
fair reward for good labor shall face a period of poverty with
courage, and co-operate unselfishly for the good of the commonwealth,
inspired by a sense of fellowship with the workers of other nations.
We have a long way to go and many storms to weather before we reach
that state, if, by any grace that is in us, and above us, we reach it.

For there are disease and insanity in our present state, due to the
travail of the war and the education of the war. The daily newspapers
for many months have been filled with the record of dreadful crimes,
of violence and passion. Most of them have been done by soldiers or
ex-soldiers. The attack on the police station at Epsom, the
destruction of the town hall at Luton, revealed a brutality of
passion, a murderous instinct, which have been manifested again and
again in other riots and street rows and solitary crimes. Those last
are the worst because they are not inspired by a sense of injustice,
however false, or any mob passion, but by homicidal mania and secret
lust. The many murders of young women, the outrages upon little girls,
the violent robberies that have happened since the demobilizing of the
armies have appalled decent--minded people. They cannot understand the
cause of this epidemic after a period when there was less crime than
usual.

The cause is easy to understand. It is caused by the discipline and
training of modern warfare. Our armies, as all armies, established an
intensive culture of brutality. They were schools of slaughter. It was
the duty of officers like Col. Ronald Campbell--"O.C. Bayonets" (a
delightful man)--to inspire blood-lust in the brains of gentle boys
who instinctively disliked butcher's work. By an ingenious system of
psychology he played upon their nature, calling out the primitive
barbarism which has been overlaid by civilized restraints, liberating
the brute which has been long chained up by law and the social code of
gentle life, but lurks always in the secret lairs of the human heart.
It is difficult when the brute has been unchained, for the purpose of
killing Germans, to get it into the collar again with a cry of, "Down,
dog, down!" Generals, as I have told, were against the "soft stuff"
preached by parsons, who were not quite militarized, though army
chaplains. They demanded the gospel of hate, not that of love. But
hate, when it dominates the psychology of men, is not restricted to
one objective, such as a body of men behind barbed wire. It is a
spreading poison. It envenoms